In 1919, women in Germany were allowed to vote for the first time. 100 years later, International Women’s Day becomes a public holiday in Berlin. And even if actual equality has still not been achieved: These rights, which we take for granted today, have only been won by women in the last 100 years.
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1. Women can vote
Women’s suffrage recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. On 30. November 1918, the Reichswahlgesetz (Imperial Election Act) came into force in Germany, granting women the right to vote and stand for election for the first time.
On 19. January 1919: Elections were held for the constitutional German National Assembly and women were able to vote and be elected for the first time in Germany. 300 women ran for office, 37 of whom made it into the German National Assembly. With a total of 423 deputies at the time, this resulted in a female quota of almost 9 percent. Incidentally, most of the female members of parliament were members of the SPD. In 1933, women lost the right to vote again until the end of the Third Reich in 1945.
2. Women are allowed to manage their own property
In 1958, the Law on Equal Rights for Men and Women came into force in the Federal Republic of Germany. Now, at least, the husband no longer had the last word in all marital matters. Until then, he managed the assets brought into the marriage by his wife, the interest accruing from them, and the salary his wife earned. From 1958, women were entitled to open their own bank accounts and thus decide about their own money.
3. Pregnant women and working mothers were protected by law
In the GDR, the "Law on the Protection of Mothers and Children and the Rights of Women" came into force as early as 1950. Women were given five weeks’ leave before and six weeks’ leave after the birth of their child and received benefits equal to the full amount of their wages. The law also stipulated the expansion of state childcare and the promotion of working women. As of 1958, nursing mothers also received a breastfeeding allowance of ten marks for six months. In the mid-1970s, further benefits for mothers were passed, including the paid baby year.
West Germany was much slower in terms of maternity protection. Only after Liesel Kipp-Kaule, a member of parliament for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), pointed out in 1951 that working during pregnancy could endanger mother and baby, was the "Law for the Protection of the Working Mother" passed after much discussion, which came into force in 1952. Since then, women have been allowed to stay at home on full pay for six weeks before and after childbirth, and have been exempt from heavy physical labor, night work and piecework. Female employees could not be dismissed until four months after giving birth.
This law still forms the basis for maternity protection today. Currently, expectant mothers are absolutely prohibited from working six weeks before the birth and eight weeks after the birth, with full pay compensation. In the case of premature and multiple births, mothers must even stay at home for at least twelve weeks after the birth.
4. Women were allowed to go to work without the husband’s permission
Until 1958, a husband could decide on his wife’s employment – that is, it was up to him whether she was allowed to work, and if he changed his mind, he could also terminate his wife’s employment at any time. This also changed with the Equal Rights Act of 1958. But: Until 1977, a woman in West Germany was only allowed to work if it was "compatible with her duties in marriage and family". Tasks in the household and in raising children were thus clearly assigned to the woman.
It was not until 1977 that the first law reforming marriage and family law came into force. As a result, there was no longer a legally mandated division of marital responsibilities. Since then, in the event of divorce, fault is no longer sought, but the so-called breakdown principle applies. This means that the spouse who can no longer provide for himself or herself after divorce is entitled to maintenance from the ex-partner.
5. Women must at least receive the same salary according to the law
Already in the 19. In the nineteenth century, women usually received less money than men for comparable work. In 1980, a law on equal treatment of men and women in the workplace ensured that women must, at least by law, receive equal pay for equal work.
Unfortunately, in practice it looks different until today. How is this possible in spite of legal anchoring? It is often speculated that women simply don’t have the confidence to negotiate salaries – or even know what they might be asking for. The Pay Transparency Act, passed at the beginning of 2018, was intended to counteract this. However, we still have a long way to go before we achieve actual salary equality.
6. Job advertisements must also be directed at women
In 1994, the Second Equal Rights Act finally came into effect. Among other things, this stated that job advertisements must be directed at both men and women. So from this point on, one had to make it clear that both genders were meant, for example by adding "(m/f)".
The law also tightens the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of gender in working life, aims to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace and generally promotes the reconciliation of work and family life, especially for women.
Equal rights: Still room to go
In the last 100 years, a lot has changed concerning the rights of women in the working life. But of course, there is still a lot of room to go up: Because women still earn significantly less money than men on average, the proportion of women in management positions remains low, and having a child still often causes a significant bend in women’s careers.
Since 2019, International Women’s Day has been celebrated on 8. March a public holiday in Berlin. By the way, it is an invention of the German socialist Clara Zetkin: At the second International Socialist Women’s Conference on 27 June, the women’s movement was introduced. August 1910 in Copenhagen, she proposed to initiate a national day of struggle for women’s suffrage and the emancipation of women workers.
Both the date and the meaning of Women’s Day have changed throughout history. As a day of struggle for equal rights, it is celebrated today, especially in large cities, with demonstrations against sexism, violence, discrimination and racism.