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The picture shows Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit in a conversation with several women at the Business Women School.
Dr. Lore-Maria Peschel Gutzeit, Senatorin a.D., zum zweiten Mal zu Gast bei der Business Women School [Dr. Lore-Maria Peschel Gutzeit, former senator, visiting the Business Women School for the second time]. June 8, 2010. Photo by Flickr user Bertelsmann Stiftung. Used under CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit – “Naturally Equal”

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The following is a guest post by Laura Schwarz, a foreign law intern working with Foreign Law Specialist Jenny Gesley at the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress.

“There has never been a moment when I would rather have been a man. The fact that I stand up for women’s rights is because of my need for justice; I want people to live together in justice,” Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit wrote in her autobiography. (Peschel-Gutzeit, Selbstverständlich gleichberechtigt, at 156.)

On September 2, 2023, this woman who broke glass ceilings, died in Berlin at the age of 90. She was a German lawyer, fought for equality, and governed two German states as a senator of justice. I thought these accomplishments would be reason enough to take stock of her life.

Early Career

Lore Peschel-Gutzeit was born in Hamburg on October 26, 1932, the daughter of a general and a teacher. She studied law in Hamburg and Freiburg from 1951 to 1955. After her second state exam in 1959, she worked as a lawyer in Freiburg in the office of Maria Plum, one of the first female lawyers in Germany, and then began her career as a judge in Hamburg. She was also a single mother after the early death of her first husband and her divorce from the father of her three children. (Peschel-Gutzeit, at 17-19; 105; 116-128.)

In a male-dominated professional world, she asserted herself with a mixture of self-confidence, creative drive, and willingness to compromise. When, as a young judge, she wanted to join the press court, a panel of a court responsible for civil matters related to the press, the presiding judge said, “Forget it. The president of the press court doesn’t take women.” Even though she knew this, she went straight to the judge and said, “I hear you want a woman in your chamber. You can be helped.” When he said no, she asked why. “Women can get pregnant,” he said. “I’m aware of that,” answered Peschel-Gutzeit. “I have two children.” A shared sherry finally broke the ice, and in 1969, she began working at the press court. (Peschel-Gutzeit, at 10,11.)

Early in her career, Peschel-Gutzeit focused on family law, children’s rights, and gender equality. She was president of the German Women Lawyers Association (djb) from 1977 to 1981, and joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1988. She was the first woman to be permitted to author a section in “Staudinger,” a commentary on the German Civil Code. In 1972, Peschel-Gutzeit became a family judge at the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court in Hamburg (Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht, OLG Hamburg), where she became the first woman to chair a family senate in 1984. There, she advocated for joint parental custody and emphasized the importance of the child’s right to be heard in this matter. In 1990, she received a doctorate from the University of Freiburg for her dissertation on “Das Recht zum Umgang mit dem eigenen Kinde. Eine systematische Darstellung” (The right of access to one’s own child. A systematic presentation), which earned her the title of Doctor of Laws. (Peschel-Gutzeit, at 229.)

During her tenure as senator of justice (senators are called ministers in other German states) from 1991 to 2001, first in Hamburg, then in Berlin, and then again in Hamburg, Peschel-Gutzeit focused on the legal enforcement of the equal rights of men and women enshrined in the German Basic Law.

In an interview, she said that in 1991, she found out from a newspaper article that she was to become senator of justice in Hamburg. However, no one had talked to her about it before. “You don’t do that with a man. But with a woman, you say to yourself, she’ll do it,” Peschel-Gutzeit recounted. And she did.

Career as a Lawyer Later in Life

After her political career, she worked as a lawyer in Berlin. In 2019, she founded a law firm for family and inheritance law on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm, where she worked until her death. Dr. Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit received numerous awards, including the Federal Order of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz) in 2004, and the Order of Merit of the German Bar Association in 2016.

Throughout her life, Peschel-Gutzeit campaigned for equal rights for men and women. In 2012, her book “Naturally Equal” was published, which she described as an “autobiographical contemporary history.”

“Lex Peschel” – Shaping German Legal History

She also shaped a piece of German legal history. In 1968, the “Lex Peschel,” which she initiated, entered into force. It is codified in section 92 of the Act on Federal Civil Servants (Bundesbeamtengesetz, BBG). The law allowed female civil servants to work part-time or take family leave for family reasons without having to leave their jobs.

She initiated the law due to an experience she had in 1965, as a young judge at the Hamburg Regional Court. Peschel-Gutzeit witnessed how a colleague had to give up her position and status as a female judge when she had children. She couldn’t rejoin the judiciary, given the maximum age of 35 to become a judge. Lore Peschel-Gutzeit contacted the German Women Lawyers Association and drafted a bill to introduce part-time work and family leave into civil service law. The law was passed by the German Bundestag (parliament) in 1969, despite considerable opposition from the federal government and the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, BVerfG), including from its first female Justice, Erna Scheffler. Scheffler feared that the law would saw off the branch “on which we all, we women, are sitting.”(Peschel-Gutzeit, at 152.) In particular, there were doubts about its constitutional compatibility, because the civil servant would now be dependent on the income of other family members and would not be able to devote him or herself fully to his or her profession. Devoting yourself fully to your profession is a traditional principle of the civil service within the meaning of article 33, paragraph 5 of the German Basic Law. (Jutta Limbach, in: Unsere Aufgaben im 21. Jahrhundert, at 90, 91.) According to the current section 92 of the BBG, civil servants who have at least one child to care for are entitled to apply for part-time work or unpaid leave. The Lex Peschel preserves the position and allows part-time positions to be converted back into full-time positions, depending on the vacancies. Today, all employed civil servants, men and women, benefit from the Lex Peschel and the private sector has also adopted similar regulations.

German Women Lawyers Association

As chairwoman of the German Women Lawyers Association, Peschel-Gutzeit also pushed for the development of additional legal means to protect families and children, as well as equal rights for men and women. This is one of the main goals of the German Women Lawyers Association. Even after her time as chairwoman, while she was serving as honorary president, she continued to be involved in the association. One of her main motivations was to see more women in the legal profession because, during her studies, Peschel-Gutzeit noticed that it was almost exclusively men who worked in the judiciary.

Ongoing Debate in Germany on Work-Life Balance

Lore Peschel-Gutzeit’s work and that of many other female lawyers is still relevant today, as evidenced by the ongoing debate about the compatibility of family and career. For example, the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs announced a new income limit of 150,000 euros (US$157,140) for receiving parental allowance (Elterngeld). Previously, it was twice that amount. Parental allowance is a payment of 300 euros to 1,800 euros (about US$314 to US$1,884), regulated in the Law on Parental Allowance and Parental Leave (Gesetz zum Elterngeld und zur Elternzeit, BEEG) to compensate for a lack of income when parents are caring for a child after its birth. It is paid for a maximum of 14 months. In 2022, just under 1.4 million women and 482,000 men in Germany received parental allowance – the share of men was about 26.1%. At 14.6 months on average, women continue to receive parental allowance much longer than fathers (3.6 months). For the parent who had a lower income before the child was born, this austerity measure can create a financial dependency on the partner, which parental allowance was intended to reduce. And in most cases, the lower wage earners are women, who earn on average 18% less per hour than men.

Sources Consulted and Additional Law Library of Congress Resources

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