Petra Pau
Petra Pau



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[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Petra Pau

Member of Parliament, Teacher, chair of the PDS Berlin

Quote: "Strategies for equal opportunity have set something in motion. However, it is still not the rule, but rather the exception if a woman reaches a leadership position."

On the one hand, it was a conscious decision that prompted Petra Pau to get involved in politics and within the PDS at the end of 1989. She wanted to play an active role instead of being a passive recipient of political decisions. On the other hand, it happened partly by chance. In Berlin, people were needed who were willing to be nominated for local elections. The PDS was also looking among others for suitable candidates with an expertise in education. Petra Pau, being a trained teacher, seemed suited for this area, and agreed to stand for election. After she was elected, her first activity was honorary, in the District Assembly of Hellersdorf. After that, her political career took off quickly. In 1991, she became Chairperson of the District Assembly (at first it was an honorary position, then later, an official post) of which she remained a member until 1995. In the fall of 1991, she was elected Second Chairperson for her party at the federal district level in Berlin, only to become First Chairperson after Andre Brie vacated the position in 1992. She considers this move into the federal level of politics as the start of her existence as a professional politician, and the start of her career as a party functionary.

It happened by accident, since she had never desired or even considered becoming a professional politician. While she deems men generally more goal-oriented in their career management, she recognizes that the principle of chance played a great role in the early phase of the PDS. Almost none of those now politically active people would have entered politics if there hadn't been the 'vacuum' of 1989. She considers this vacuum at the time of transition responsible for giving women great opportunities in the PDS. At first, she was responsible for public relations and building up the PDS in the West. Later, she became involved in all areas of Berlin politics. She was someone who clearly played a very active role in Berlin politics and worked for the unification of East and West after 1989.
It is not accidental that she names the Berlin town elder Ella Barowski as a role model for her own political engagement.

Generally, Petra Pau claims, a woman should not try to be 'the better man' in politics, but rather to work toward her own goals. In her case, her professional qualifications were helpful. Being a teacher, she was used to working with people from different age groups, and knew how to think and work in an integrative manner. This is an ability she can still make use of in her political work today. Apart from Berlin politics, she was active in the politics of education. Since she was elected to the Federal Assembly in 1998, she has concentrated on internal affairs, policy towards foreigners, and questions of asylum and integration. Her political goals have remained the same, but their content has become more precise. This also has to do with the general situation of the PDS. In1990, nobody was interested in what the party might have to say on particular topics. Meanwhile, this has changed, and she has had to take a stand on many issues and to make suggestions. She welcomes this change, since it responds to her original motivations in 1989 that brought her into politics. Her own political vision for the future is quite modest: it would be nice if political alternatives became possible again, and a topic of discussion in society. A precondition for such debate would be to encourage people to become involved and enter into controversies. She identifies a deep feeling of resignation that pervades society as the fundamental obstacle to such involvement. The larger goal for her is a more just and socially equitable society.

Petra Pau considers the 50% quota for men and women that the PDS has established internally to be incredibly important. She deems it a 'crutch' that helps develop and promote a sensibility for the problems women face. The quota, she claims, has had an important impact on the composition of executive committees at the federal state level and of decision-making bodies in general. The pressure that the quota exerted within the party has been extremely important. However, the strong desire present in the middle of the 90s to promote women and create opportunities for them has almost disappeared even in the PDS. In this regard, she feels, the PDS has unfortunately adapted to the general climate in society. Partly responsible for this is the young age of the PDS as a party in the German party system. It was easier initially to concentrate on a few people, mostly men, and this has been perpetuated on the national level. On the level of the federal states, however, women have great opportunities to enter the higher levels of decision-making, and make use of them.

Strategies aimed at equal opportunity have made an impact. However, it is still not taken for granted, Petra Pau states, that women should enter the higher ranks - this remains an exception. Traditional gender stereotypes still impact appointments for top-positions. Women are deemed unfit for the 'first division', Petra Pau suspects, while the 'regional division' isn't seen as a problem. One example of this occurred during the national elections of 1998. Men were to be nominated (such as former admiral, Elmar Schmähling) instead of first looking for women candidates, even if those men weren't 'first division contenders' with regard to party politics.

Nevertheless, Petra Pau concedes that a general lack of women is also responsible for their scarce presence in politics. Additionally, she thinks that men are more likely to enter new fields in politics, while women tend to be concerned whether they might be able to reach their goals in those new contexts. This has nothing to do with low self-esteem, she says, but rather with the difficulty of combining party politics with their private lives. Women are more likely to ask themselves whether this path will lead them to personal fulfillment and happiness. The question of what she can contribute to politics and whether she can support current developments is always present for Petra Pau as well. If it became evident that she could no longer contribute her own vision or find support for her own critical historical perspectives, she would draw the line and consider dropping out of politics. This is an attitude that is and has certainly not been understood by men active in politics.

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