“Globally, we are witnessing a dangerous backlash on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized groups. From Brazil to Poland, from the US to Turkey, right-wing men are threatening democratic achievements and human rights,” said Claudia Roth, longtime Green Party politician and Vice-President of the German Federal Government, or ‘Bundestag.’ Although Article Three of Germany’s Grundgesetz (Constitution) guarantees equal rights to women and men, Roth believes there is still much that has to be done to end sex discrimination in her country. Although Angela Merkel has served as the Chancellor of Germany for almost fourteen years, the number of women serving in the Bundestag dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent in the 2017 elections. And although Germany is considered to be progressive in comparison to other countries, abortion is still illegal there. Further, fewer than 30 percent of public leadership positions were held by women in 2018. According to Claudia Roth, “Patriarchy still works well in Germany.”
Women’s eNews intern, Charlotte Geissler, was granted an exclusive opportunity to pose the following questions to Claudia Roth last month, to gain insights into German politics and show how gender discrimination continues to exist:
Women’s eNews: Although gender equality is included in the German Constitution or ‘Grundgesetz’, women in Germany are still underrepresented in politics and work and gender discrimination still plagues the country. What actions must Germany’s government take to truly provide women with equal rights and opportunities?
Claudia Roth: Back in 1994 the German constitution was amended to push for more gender equality by including the following: “The State shall promote the actual implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist.” It was a big promise. Unfortunately, today there are still many battles to fight to even come close to this status, in which all people of all genders are treated equally in Germany. Women are still underrepresented in leading positions in all areas of society, are paid less, and do most of the unpaid care work. Our tax system undermines women’s financial independence in marriage and single mothers hardly get any state support. Overall, women have less access to power and resources, and are subject to discrimination and violence. Abortion is still illegal in a self-proclaimed liberal Germany and there is not enough action to prevent gender-based violence and support for those affected by it. The picture looks even worse if a woman is affected by multiple types of discrimination. And the list goes on – so action has to be taken and mainstreamed on all levels of politics.
Claudia Roth: The General Act on Equal Treatment is the anti-discrimination law in Germany, which the Green party lobbied hard for since the 90’s. It is binding for workplaces and all interactions between private persons. But today, it has to be improved in many ways. One example would be that lawsuits due to discrimination should also be executed by anti-discrimination associations in order to push for more change on the ground and to discharge individuals. Currently the barriers for private persons for legal justice are way too high. The Federal Equality Act aims to create more gender equality in civil service. That law is good, but its implementation is lacking. Without sufficient political will and enough resource allocation we won’t achieve progress at all. Still, the most powerful positions in civil service and in public authorities are filled mostly with men. Mostly old, white, heterosexual, multiple-privileged men. One could say: ‘Patriarchy still works well in Germany.‘
Women’s eNews: In 1999, ‘gender mainstreaming’ was adopted to reform the procedures and initiatives of Germany’s government through the ‘Modern State – Modern Administration’ Program. In your view, how effective has this program been?
Claudia Roth: The adoption of gender mainstreaming had been an assignment given to national governments by the European Union back in 1997. That was the same year that Germany – against tough resistance – made rape within marriages illegal. So you can see where we were standing 1997: There was still a long way to go. When the government switched to a coalition of social democrats and Greens in 1999, gender mainstreaming was made a guiding principle. The Green Party originated from the 1970’s/80’s women’s movement. Women’s rights and gender equality have always been and still are one of my parties’ main priorities. But as other governments followed, there has not been sufficient political will in order to fully implement gender mainstreaming. Real feminist politics would change the whole system – you need lots of guts to do that.
Women’s eNews: How should Germany further equalize rights for women beyond the country’s borders, and why is it important for Germany to promote equal rights internationally?
Claudia Roth: All over the world, women and other marginalized groups are structurally disadvantaged, are affected more by poverty, are subject to severe human rights violations and do not have equal access to representation, rights and resources. Sweden has been an international role model by declaring a feminist foreign policy back in 2014 under feminist Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström. What we need for Germany, and basically for all states, would be a feminist foreign policy which addresses the structural roots of injustices due to gender or other lines of discrimination. We need the international goal to implement no less than full human rights for everyone on this planet. All areas of foreign policy must be radically redesigned, putting human security at its core. The current efforts of our foreign minister, while being a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council, have been quite disappointing for the feminist agenda. A resolution has been adopted, which actually falls way back to the standards of UNSC-Res 1325. Unfortunately, reactionary forces, such as UN-diplomats reporting to the President of the United States, have lobbied hard to eliminate demands in the resolution on sexual and reproductive health. Globally we are witnessing a dangerous backlash on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized groups: From Brazil to Poland, from the US to Turkey: Right-wing men are threatening democratic achievements and human rights. But on the other hand, there is no movement worldwide as successful as the women’s rights movement to repel those right-wing populist and sexist agitators. The US Women’s March in January 2017 gave hope and strength to women, LGBTIQA and marginalized communities all over the globe: We do not back down!
Women’s eNews: In your perspective, what correlation exists between feminism and environmentalism, and what effects would equal rights for women have on the climate movement?
Claudia Roth: Women, indigenous people and marginalized communities are affected most severely by the destruction of our environment and by the severe consequences of the climate crisis, which already threaten the livelihood of millions of people. It is women who, due to traditional gender-roles, do most of the care work within families and communities, and who take care of the basic needs even in worst conditions. It’s women who mostly work in agriculture and have to deal with droughts and flooding. But it’s their needs, which are cut first. We know for sure that women do not have equal rights, that hunger has a female face, and that the effects of poverty are indeed gendered; that women, who are facing poverty and who are displaced, are even more likely to be subject to violence and rape. Despite their marginalization women are active all over the world to fight for a liveable planet, for just land rights, the sustainable use of resources and on the forefront of climate negotiations. There will be no climate justice without gender justice.
Women’s eNews: How can the climate movement and the women’s rights movement cooperate to accomplish the goals of both movements on a national scale and internationally?
Claudia Roth: Both movements already have linkages, which have to be strengthened. The climate movement should integrate a gender perspective within its struggle and in all of its analyses and political demands. The voices of women and marginalized communities have to be brought to the forefront of climate negotiations. On the other side, feminists should integrate the calls for climate justice into their agenda. Only at first look one might think of them as different struggles, but in the end the aim is the same: A livable and just planet, on which all people – regardless of gender, class, race, whatever background – can live in dignity, freedom and peace.
Women’s eNews: The United States, although home to a strong women’s rights movement, does not have an Equal Rights Amendment in the country’s constitution. Do you believe women in the United States would benefit from such an amendment?
Claudia Roth: Of course they would! As soon as this amendment is written in the Constitution, women can refer to it and reclaim their right.
Women’s eNews: What actions must Germany take to protect all women, regardless of their race or status? In other words, how can the goals of intersectional feminism be accomplished in Germany?
Claudia Roth: I am now quoting our constitution, our “Grundgesetz” again: “Human dignity shall be inviolable” – this is in its very first paragraph. It doesn’t say the dignity of white, heterosexual, Christian, non-disabled men. It means the dignity of all, of each and every one of us. Written more than seventy years ago the fathers and mothers of our Constitution have centrally integrated the learning of the atrocities under the Nazi-dictatorship within this simple first sentence. The realization of human rights is thus the purpose of the state and that’s what intersectional feminism is basically all about. Intersectionality is a perspective to understand the multidimensional effects of unjust structures, an analytical gift given to us by Kimberlé Crenshaw. This just perspective has to be mainstreamed in all areas of policy, otherwise mainly white and privileged women will benefit from any efforts toward gender justice. Moreover, we need comprehensive anti-discrimination and social justice policies. Racism is still a serious and often neglected problem in Germany, and trans- and intersexual people are still heavily discriminated against, so many injustices have to be addressed at the very same time.
Women’s eNews: In the 2017 federal elections, the number of women in the Bundestag dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent. What is the cause of this drop and how can more women be brought into the Bundestag in the next elections?
Claudia Roth: The share of women in our parliament dropped because a right-wing party, with only ten percent of female parliamentarians, was elected into the Bundestag. But other forces also prohibit women from having fair representation in our core democratic institution. The conservatives only include twenty percent women and the liberals aren’t that much better. It’s only the Greens and the Leftist who have sent more women than men into parliament. The Green Party we has internal quotas in place: At all levels of politics, at least fifty percent of positions have to be filled by women, which was a huge achievement of the early feminists thirty years ago, and which accounts for the fair rate of women in the Green Party. Other parties are reluctant to install internal quotas, and that’s why we need binding quotes in our electoral law. Two states in Germany have recently passed Parité laws, to make sure more women will be elected.
Women’s eNews: As an experienced politician working in Parliament since 1989, what have been the greatest challenges for you as a woman? Also, what have been your greatest successes as a woman in the Bundestag, and your greatest successes in empowering other women?
Claudia Roth: Women in politics always have to prove themselves way more than men, and have to be better prepared, argue more sophisticatedly, and work harder to be heard and seen. One has to also deal a lot with subtitle sexism, where too many men systematically give power to other men and make the work of women unseen. Plus, women in public are subject to hate and sexism, especially if you have a strong feminist opinion and dare not to represent what mainstream society might expect of women. I would say that the greatest successes have been political achievements, where women of different fractions worked together. Female solidarity and more feminist men in politics – that’s how we’ll build a more feminist and livable future.
Charlotte Geissler, a sophomore at Bard College, is bilingual in English/German and specializes in international relations. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program
The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”
As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.