Today, March 8, 2023, is International Women’s Day. If you happen to live in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, you even get to take the day off for the first time. The United Nations (UN) started celebrating this day in 1975 to highlight “the progress made towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment but also to critically reflect on those accomplishments and strive for a greater momentum towards gender equality worldwide.” In December 1977, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on “all States to proclaim a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national tradition.” The theme in 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.”
International Women’s Day in Germany
Germany celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time on March 19, 1911. In 2019, the German city state of Berlin became the first state to make March 8 an official public holiday. (FeiertG BE, § 1, para. 1, no. 2.) This year, Berlin is joined by the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where the state parliament voted in 2022 to add March 8 as a public holiday. (Feiertagsgesetz Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, § 2, para. 1, no. 2.) According to the explanatory memorandum to the law in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, 26 other countries have declared international women’s day a public holiday. In a press release announcing the new public holiday, the spokeswoman on gender equality for the Social Democratic Party of Germany stated that selecting March 8 as a new public holiday is meant to shine a light on International Women’s Day and make people inquire what this day is about and why it was selected as a new holiday.
Legislation on Gender Equality in Germany
The German Basic Law, the country’s constitution, states in article 3 that “men and women shall have equal rights” and that “[t]he state shall promote the actual implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist.” In 2015, the German parliament adopted a first law on the equal participation of women and men in leadership positions in private and public sector companies. It required supervisory boards of private publicly traded companies that are codetermined to be composed of a minimum of 30% women and 30% men. In August 2021, a second law to increase the number of women in leadership positions in private and public sector companies in Germany (FüPoG II) entered into force. Since August 1, 2022, private companies that are both publicly traded and codetermined are required to appoint at least one woman and one man to an executive board with more than three members. (FüPoG II, art. 7, no. 1.) Other private companies must set a target figure for women and must ensure that the target figure (in percentage) equals a full person. (Art. 7, nos. 1, 6; art. 10, nos. 2, 4; art. 11, no. 2.) In the European Union (EU), the Directive on Improving the Gender Balance Among Directors of Listed Companies was adopted on November 22, 2022 after ten years of negotiations. It “aim[s] to accelerate progress towards gender balance” and requires member states to ensure that listed companies have 40% of the underrepresented sex among non-executive directors or 33% among all directors by June 30, 2026. (Directive, arts. 1, 4.)
Furthermore, German law forbids employment discrimination on the basis of gender, among other categories. (General Act on Equal Treatment, § 2.) In 2017, Germany passed a law to address the gender pay gap and ensure equal pay for equal work or work of equal value for women and men in the same workplace, the Transparency in Wage Structures Act (Entgelttransparenzgesetz). The act provides several measures to promote transparency in pay structures. However, despite these measures, Germany has one of the largest gender pay gaps in the EU and among EFTA countries. The European Commission proposed a directive on binding pay transparency measures on March 4, 2021. The negotiations are ongoing.
Progress on Gender Equality in Germany
The German government acknowledges that even though there is legal equality between men and women, implementing this legal mandate in real life still needs some work. The German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth regularly publishes a ”Gender Equality Atlas,” which gives an overview of the regional differences in the equality of women and men in Germany. The German Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt, DESTATIS) publishes a yearly Gender Equality Index, which sets out the progress on gender equality in supreme federal authorities (oberste Bundesbehörden). Furthermore, in 2021, the German government published its Third Gender Equality Report. The expert commission was mandated to explore “how digitalization can be shaped in a gender-equitable way.” It presented several recommendations to achieve this goal. The federal government then added its comments. The then-Minister of Gender Equality Christine Lambrecht stated that “the goal is to promote gender equality through digitalization, for example by increasing the number of women in digital professions, remote work, or combatting online discrimination.”
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