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FES | Forum Politik und Gesellschaft | Gender-Infobrief
Soon just empty streets and old people? Many people blame women for low birth rates – Photo: plainpicture

Demography as a battle cry

According to statistics, the birth rate in 2012 was an average of 1.38 children per woman. Thatis a positive trend in comparison to 2005, butGermany is bringing up the rear with regard to many other countries in the European Union. Apart from the European „crisis countries“, only Eastern European countries are doing worse than Germany. Demographic change is in full force in these societies and is frequently deployed as a battle cry against equality between the sexes and against socio-political demands.


„The death of the nation“ is upon us. Again and again, politicians in East- Central Europe bemoan the „lack of sustainability of the social state,“ or the „value of children to society“. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Budapest examined a number of different, and yet strikingly similar patterns of thought and argument at an event in April 2015 – part of the series entitled „Dialogue on Equality Policy“. What was different about this series was that people from different political backgrounds came together to discuss jointly, and with mutual respect, the emotionally-charged issue of gender. What was clear was that politics, in particular, placed all of the responsibility for the issue of children, onto women. The female desire for economic independence and equal rights is often seen as a factor for the decline in birth rates in these countries over the years. The example of other European countries, where the balance between family and career is better managed, is stubbornly ignored.

But demography isn‘t just deployed against equal rights. The concept can also be used as justification for cuts in social welfare.

Demography and pensions

In Germany for example, we are used to the fact that the level of statutory pensions is reduced with reference to demographics: in 2030 to 43 percent! This calculation is far too simplistic, as Katja Mast, spokesperson for labour and social affairs with the SPD parliamentary group made clear in November 2014 at an FES event in Baden-Württemberg. What is critical is the quantity of jobs where payment of social insurance contributions are mandatory, the level of participation of women in the workforce, and the quality and remuneration of these employment arrangements. Narrowing the discussion on demographics is backward-looking, frequently racist – as migration would be rejected as a positive influencing factor – and antiemancipatory in motivation. The significance of expanding the participation of women in the workforce, and increasing their working hours, is glossed-over in the debate about the stability of pension schemes.

But it is also a fact that, in the pension system as it stands, many people are barely able to supplement their meagre pension from the state with payments from occupational or private pension funds.

Women are particularly hard hit by these developments. Today, a majority of them are required to apply for a basic pension in their old age, in other words, social welfare. Their pension is not sufficient to meet the demands of old age. According to estimates, more than 40 percent of today‘s 45 and 50-year old women in West Germany will need to apply for a basic pension. In the East, by comparison, the number is „only“ 20 percent. The reason has its roots primarily in the roles allocated to the sexes. In the immediate postwar period of the former Federal Republic women were seen primarily as mothers. They had a „demographic task“ to fulfil. Their gainful employment was viewed, at best, as supplementary to a man‘s income. With the education offensive of the 1980s, the aspirations of many young women changed. Increased levels of education were generally associated with the expectation of independent career development.

However, circumstances only changed to follow suit slowly. Until recently in West Germany, it was extremely difficult to have a child under three cared-for in order to go to work. The legal right to daycare in 2013 changed that to an extent. Many women, particularly academics, have therefore consciously decided against having children or have simply remained childless because they didn‘t find a partner who could make the balancing act with family and gainful employment feasible. Or, perhaps, if they did find them, they found them too late.

Is everything better in the East?

In East Germany, as a result of the socialist ideology, he favourable conditions required to increase participation by women in the workforce changed more quickly. Having children and working was not considered a contradiction. But it would be inaccurate to say that feminism in the East of the Republic is completely superfluous. Participants in the event, „‘But In The East, Everyone Was Equal!‘ How Important Is Feminism Today“ in March 2015 in Erfurt, were in agreement on that point. In private, men and women were, in fact, rarely equal. More often, women in East Germany were „allowed“ to work while also taking care of the home and the family. Their area of responsibility was simply expanded, instead of arranging the allocation of tasks between the sexes on a new basis.

In the East, however, not everything was rosy in matters of gender equality. But most women here were a small step further along than their peers in the West. Those West German women who did have children often had to make do with a pension below the basic income level. They often interrupted their employment for many years to look after their children; thereafter, they worked part-time, at most 20 hours a week, or a so-called „mini-job“ (job paying a maximum of approximately €450 per month). It was not possible for many of these women to re-enter at a level equal to that of their qualifications. In addition, many of these typical „women‘s jobs“ were undervalued in terms of pay. A pay gap still remains between the sexes for identical jobs. This means that many women‘s CVs accumulate negative factors.

Professor Marianne Sundström from the University of Stockholm shows that part-time work in Nordic countries does not lead to poverty in old age, at the FES event „Work Part-Time, Poor Full-Time?“ in April 2015. – Photo: Ursula Kelm

And then penniless in old age?

It‘s not unusual for women to experience poverty in old age as a result. Particularly, when the small pensions of these women cannot be compensated for in the context of the household budget. Single women are at a further disadvantage in this respect. This was also the conclusion of the FES specialist event „Work Part-Time, Poor Full-Time? Old Age Poverty among Women in Germany“ in April 2015 in Berlin.

Marianne Sundström, Professor at the University of Stockholm gave a presentation which clearly demonstrated that there is another way. In Nordic countries, many women, and some men, reduce their working hours after the birth of a child – but to a much higher degree; that is, 75 percent of a full-time job. They generally do it for a limited period of time and return to full-time employment much sooner than most women in Germany. For example, Swedish parents have the right to work part-time until the child‘s eighth birthday. After that, they can increase their hours to full time without a problem. Parents in Germany can only dream of such a thing. For them, it‘s a case of returning immediately to full-time work after parental leave, or going part-time for an indefinite period of time. And for most that means: once part-time, always part-time.

Federal Minister Manuela Schwesig has undertaken this challenge. Coming soon to Germany: the right to move back from part-time to fulltime.

Author: SUSAN JAVAD, FES Berlin
Contributions from ESZTER KOVÁTS, FES Budapest,
DR SABINE FANDRYCH, FES Baden-Württemberg,
EVA NAGLER, FES Thüringen.

 

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Anyone who wants to take part in discussions online has to get used to a harsh discourse, particularly when it comes to gender politics – Photo: Danny Prusseit

Not being online is no longer possible

The internet has become an expansion of the public sphere, and also of private exchange. Particularly for media professionals and activists, it‘s impossible to imagine being without it. Subjects that are not (yet) sufficiently discussed in politics and the media can be discussed and disseminated through social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as blogs. But web 2.0 is not a one-way street. Content is not just consumed, topics are selected, discussed and then changed.

These opportunities have a dark side, however. It is not just data protection and copyright that are facing new challenges – there are also questions of „netiquette“ and of dealing with online abuse and violence. The internet community is beginning to ask: who is actually allowed to speak online?

The internet was started as a „guys‘ project“ and even today in many areas, it still reflects an online culture marked by sexism. „There are no girls on the internet“ is consequently one of the notorious „rules“ that finds its way around the web. But even what was wrong back in the 1980s is completely outdated today. Feminist activists have long used the internet for themselves as one of the places where debates can be started and fellow campaigners found.

Taking part, choosing topics, talking about problems and making contacts – the internet makes all of this possible for people who never had access to political gender debates before. In Germany, this was demonstrated to an impressive effect in 2013 through the Twitter hashtag, #Aufschrei in which women began to exchange their experiences with everyday sexism and discrimination. Soon, thousands of descriptions of everyday sexist and even racist attacks were gathered under #Aufschrei. And the debate didn‘t remain online, but was taken up by the mainstream media, with the hashtag even going on to win the Grimme Online Award.

Anne Wizorek was one of the initiators of #Aufschrei. As a result of the flurry of messages across various media, she took up the theme of sexism and gathered together her experiences in the book „Weil ein #Aufschrei nicht reicht!“ („because an outcry is not enough“). She presented it on 3 March 2015 as part of a joint event organised by the Federal State office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Thuringia and the Landesfrauenrats Thüringen e. V. in Nordhausen.

Way below the belt

At the event, she made it clear that #Aufschrei was not just important in terms of speaking about the major problem of everyday sexism; one of its significant effects was also allowing women to talk about issues that affect them personally, and to demonstrate that women themselves can set the agenda. But at the same time, it became obvious: anyone who speaks out publicly makes themselves a target. Particularly when it comes to the subject of feminism. It‘s something that those publicly engaged in emancipatory gender politics are all too familiar with: hate mails with threats of violence, comments on articles and blog entries that go way below the belt are an everyday occurrence. Anne Wizorek has also had such experiences.

The new online feminism has made it clear how important engagement can be by individual people discussing major social topics such as gender equality. Individual and personal stories often provide information about how widespread so-called ‚private‘ problems are in society. Discriminatory structures can be discovered in this way. This also includes discussing privileges and pointing out inequalities. It was with this in mind that British activist and author Caroline Criado-Perez spoke out in 2013. She wanted a stop the only banknote in.

Online threats must be taken seriously, as Caroline Criado-Perez knows. All it takes is for one person to literally mean it. She is the co-founder of the „Women‘s Room“ and promotes gender equality in the UK – Photo: Danny Prusseit

IGreat Britain featuring a woman (Elizabeth Fry) being replaced for one with another man (Winston Churchill). What began as a relatively unassuming, feminist concern was immediately met with a vehement and aggressive counter-campaign. Murder and rape threats against Criado-Perez followed, as well as a flood of hatemail – a so-called shitstorm.

A need for regulation!

Finally, the Bank of England gave in. From 2017, Jane Austen will be featured on the 10 pound banknote. But Criado-Perez was forced to discover, in the most bitter fashion, that British law does not have a sufficient handle on those making online threats – this was the sobering conclusion of her presentation at the event „Whose Internet? Gender Relations and Gender Debates Online“ on 22 April 2015, organised jointly by FES and the German Federal Ministry for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Almost 300 online activists and representatives from politics, science and civil society travelled to Berlin for the event.

What has been lacking to date quickly became clear: while it is possible to report breaches of netiquette on most websites, the procedures as a whole are complicated and long-winded. If the victims of online threats and insults turn to the police, they are often met with indifference, or are not taken seriously. Up to this point, there has been a lack of awareness of what online violence means. Dagmar Freudenberg from the German Women Lawyers Association regards the existing regulations, which were created for the analogue world, as largely inapplicable to the net. In any case, the legal protection of fair „rules of play“ is required online because these attacks have a lasting effect. Freudenberg reminded listeners in the closing panel discussion: „What‘s typical about online insults is something that‘s obviously different from the ‚real‘ world: the insults stay there and can be read forever.“

The task for policy was clear at the end of the event: to be able to move safely in public spaces, be they digital or analogue, is not an unreasonable demand and is a prerequisite for many women to be able to play a part in society. Rules are needed, which as a matter of urgency, must be introduced.

Author: EVA ELLEREIT, FES Berlin
Contributions by EVA NAGLER, FES Thüringen

 

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Something is happening on supervisory boards: Quotas for women are coming! – Photo: picturealliance

To the very top? Women in management positions

The quota for women on supervisory boards in major DAX-listed companies has been decided on and is coming in 2016. For far too long, politics has relied on companies to change on their own accord. But contrary to assertions, the infamous glass ceiling has not become any more penetrable.

For most women starting out in their careers, the glass ceiling is initially no big deal. They define themselves primarily by their achievements, which, in terms of formal education, often exceed those of their male contemporaries. It is often only later, when their own career becomes bogged down, that they notice there are other factors that affect promotion. Today, blatantly direct discrimination is more rare than indirect, more subtle forms of disadvantage. Women with children are affected by this in particular, as they are typically not working full time, and are often not as flexible or able to work anywhere and at any time. As such, they are not even considered for most management positions.

From the company‘s point of view, we hear again and again that they are wringing their hands, searching for women for management positions.

But women don‘t want them. Hannelore Kraft argues that the desire for power is a necessary prerequisite for a top job. Kraft is the Minister-President of North-Rhine Westphalia and spoke at the event, „Women – Power – Career – a Difficult Triangular Relationship“ organised by the Federal State office of the Friedrich-Ebert- Stiftung (FES) in North-Rhine Westphalia, Dusseldorf. She also made clear: „Power is needed to change things. Therefore I am not at all shy about wanting power.“

In her opening presentation, Kraft hit on one of the sore points of the debate, namely the lack of role models. As long as the working world is all male above a certain career level, it makes promotion for women more difficult. Ultimately, a more mixed team is required at management level, which signals to women in particular: you can make it all the way to the top!

Role models are needed! Hannelore Kraft at the conference „Women – Power – Career“ in March in Düsseldorf – Photo: Gerhard P. Müller

Wanted: role models

The managerial group of the FES is doing its bit to advance the issue of role models. A business lunch for women has been set up in Baden- Württemberg, the focus of which is on exchanging ideas on specific topics, as well as networking. Dr Kristina Both from Deutsche Telekom AG took the lead last November. In February 2015, the lunch was joined byN icole Ackermann, co-owner and managing director of Mouna GmbH and a member of the executive board of Women in Film and Television Germany e.V. That more female role models are required at management level has become the consensus almost across the whole of society. But it is noticeable that the women who have made it to the top so far either have no children or have the full support of their partner at home. Quite a few are playing the classic role models in reverse. The question of how a management job, where the work involved generally far exceeds a 40-hour workweek, can be combined with family life, remains unanswered.

„Power and money are interesting options,“ says Melanie Kreis, member of the executive board of Deutsche Post AG, who took part in the aforementioned event in March in Dusseldorf. But then, she added thoughtfully: „But I have seen for myself that you have to give up certain things in terms of your family if you decide in favour of your career.“ This aspect should be included for the sake of honesty.

Cowards, when all is said and done?

Is journalist Bascha Mika ultimately correct in her thesis that the „Cowardice of Women“ is the reason for their career stagnation? Are women, particularly mothers, themselves guilty if they only balance at the lower end of the career ladder? Are they simply lacking the will to gain power? It‘s surely not as simple as all that. In the end, it cannot just be about women adapting wholesale to the working world and the economy. Working and economic activity must also undergo substantial changes in this context. In many companies prior to this, not much was done to enable careers with management responsibility to be compatible with those who have family obligations. In most companies, the man (and more rarely, the woman) with the longest service wins-out. Far too often, the quantity of work holds more weight than the quality.

Family-friendly policies are a central concept here. They are increasingly demanded, even by young men, from their employers. But this term can cover a multitude of specific measures. In a background conversation with the managerial group from FES North-Rhine Westphalia in May of this year, participants discussed with state minister Ute Schäfer, on the basis of their own experiences, the various approaches for companies and the need for political support.

Family-friendly companies are doing themselves a favour first and foremost, according to the results of a study from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research: Compared to their less family-friendly competitors, they are significantly more economically successful. If that‘s not an incentive …

Author: SUSAN JAVAD, FES Berlin
Contributions from JEANETTE RUSSBÜLT, FES office in North Rine-Westphalia and
DR SABINE FANDRYCH, FES office in Baden-Württemberg.

 

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A whiff of retro ... Hillary Clinton in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year – Photo: UN Photo

The future of gender equality: Negotiate internationally, be active locally

Women‘s rights are human rights. That was the clear and simple message that Hillary Clinton sent to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. A seemingly banal statement, intended to draw attention not just to breaches of human rights suffered by women, but also to the lack of gender equality in the form of insufficient opportunities for advancement and higher poverty and health risks for women. 20 years have passed since then, and the international community is asking itself, what has happened in the meantime? What goals have been reached and what is the best way to proceed?

The fact is, the goals formulated at the World Conference on Women in Beijing are far from having been reached. However, advances have been made in many areas: the financial security and independence of women has been strengthened in many areas due to improved access to the labour market and to credit. Numerous projects to improve health care for women, as well as education projects, have been set up. The first results are coming in.

But to date, no country in the world can claim to have achieved equality between the sexes. Actress Emma Watson accomplished great publicity as an ambassador for the UN #HeForShe campaign for the rights of women. And it brought with it a sobering result: there is no single country in the world in which all women can expect to be treated fairly and equally. The reason for this is that the objectives from Beijing have not been implemented to a sufficient extent. For experts, this conclusion is hardly surprising.

A view of the realities of women‘s lives quickly shows the structures of repression and degradation with which women struggle on a daily basis. According to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2013, approximately one third of all women have already been the victims of physical or sexual violence in a relationship. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found in its survey of EU Member States that 55 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

For young women in Africa, the probability of being infected with HIV is twice to four times that of men of the same age. Women are at a higher risk of poverty than men and have fewer opportunities for professional advancement. In sub-Saharan Africa between 1990 and 2011, the number of people living below the poverty line decreased from 56.6% to 46.8%. But the feminisation of poverty and poor access to food, health-care, education and employment have drastic consequences for attempts to promote gender equality. These findings were highlighted in a report in 2011 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). But how can we be sure that the still highly-relevant demands of the Beijing Platform for Action are being observed at an international level and are actually influencing political processes?

Three major international conferences are coming up this year: At the headquarters of the UN in New York, the new UN Development Agenda is being negotiated – Photo: UN Photo

Trend-setting conferences

The year 2015 is a key year for many global issues: three important international conferences will decide how much importance the subject of gender equality will assume on the international agenda. During the course of negotiations on the UN Development Agenda in New York, the World Climate Conference in Paris and the UN Conference on Development Financing in Addis Ababa, goals will be formulated into which the demands of the Beijing platform for action should be integrated.

At a specialist conference organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Brussels, experts discussed the issue of how to ensure that gender is included as a relevant category in the upcoming debates. One important step, for example, is campaigning for a so-called „stand-alone“ goal on gender equality in the post-2015 development agenda of the UN. Participants such as Dagmar Schumacher, director of UN Women Brussels, and the MEP Elly Schlein, emphasised the importance of the role of local campaigns for equality, led by both women and men.

„Every day the rights of women are trampled on“

Opening with these words, the German Federal Minister for Families, Manuela Schwesig, signalled the importance of international gender equality. She was the first German Minister for Women to visit the United Nations in New York for more than eight years. „We must change the reality of life for women. Everywhere in the world. And women must also participate – there, where power, money and influence are at stake,“ she contended to the General Assembly. She herself has attempted through numerous reform programmes to make a contribution in this regard. But it hasn‘t got any easier over the past 20 years to find a strategy for the implementation of gender equality as either a cross-sectional issue or as a stand-alone goal. There is a continuing need for a communal effort involving many different participants, and campaigning at various levels for gender equality.

In the zero draft for the negotiations at the UN Conference on Development Financing, the subject of gender equality has, to date, not been given adequate consideration. Against this backdrop, the FES organised a workshop together with the Women‘s Working Group (WWG) – an international network of civil women‘s organisations – with the aim of increasing the gender sensitivity of the zero draft. Using an annotated report, the points of criticism which had been compiled were brought in to the political consultation process at the UN. The draft was analysed paragraph by paragraph for gender sensitivity, and suggestions for improvement were proposed.

This involved an analysis of not just the language and terminology of the draft: the content and increasing importance of private enterprise as an „aid worker“, and the inclusion of middle-income countries as financial backers in development work were also criticised. The fear is that government responsibility in development financing will not be given sufficient consideration in the future, and the focus will instead be on creating a business-friendly environment. This would be indirectly linked with a move away from the obligations to create gender equality which are embedded in development financing.

The central criticism from women‘s rights organisations worldwide, however, remains: economic gender equality is still viewed more as a means to an end (in terms of achieving growth) than as the realisation of women‘s rights as human rights. Just as it did 20 years ago in Beijing, this issue is, and remains, a primary concern of international feminist movements.

Vandana Shiva at equality week 2015 at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
– Photo: Jens Jeske

There‘s no such thing as „the women“

Particularly in the Global South, and aside from gender-specific discrimination, women see themselves as also affected by structural disadvantages in the context of the North-South relationship, such as global inequality in the distribution of resources. Socio-economic and socio-ecological rifts separate the interests of the global population as surely as genderspecific differences. But these rifts also separate the different realities of life for women worldwide. They are, consequently, an extremely heterogeneous group with multifaceted and occasionally conflicting interests. Local processes of labour division, the supply of resources, and development opportunities cannot be separated from global inequalities, but actually magnify their effects on the population. People in the Global South, for example, are affected to a much greater extent by the current and impending consequences of climate change. People in cities are confronted by entirely different challenges than people in rural regions.

As part of Equality Week at the FES in Berlin, Dr Vandana Shiva gave a presentation explaining how equality must be thought of in a global context and with new patterns of thought. The results of overexploitation, through which many people lose their livelihoods, must be understood in the greater context of global supply chains. The joint international fight for gender equality is therefore confronted with very different challenges due to specific social, economic and ecological contexts. As a result, it also needs specific, gender-aware political approaches, that can take local characteristics into account. Consequently, there is no global blueprint.

Much has been done in the past 20 years. Among other things, it may be noted that Hillary Clinton is running for the most powerful management position in the world. But 20 years after the Beijing platform for action, strong signals are needed internationally to continue the international campaign for gender equality in all of the relevant policy areas. 2015 will be critical in determining whether the international community can agree at international conferences on this campaign.

Author: EVA ELLEREIT, FES Berlin
Contributions from DR CÄCILIE SCHILDBERG, FES Berlin
and FRIEDERIKE KAMM, FES Brussels.

 

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Balancing family and career affects both women and men – Photo: plainpicture

What we want …

Many studies show that most young women and men in Germany want a career and a family; and the question of balancing both areas of life is of major political concern.

Few can reinforce this subject as impressively as Jutta Allmendinger, President of the Berlin Social Science Center and an expert on the labour market. At an event entitled „Life Plans and Family Today – Approaches For A Modern Family Policy“, the Federal State office of the Friedrich- Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Baden-Württemberg, she also made clear: only a minority get to realise this wish.

Her study, entitled „Women On The Go“, spans a period of five years; five years in which those surveyed started a family. During this period, most of the study participants were operating under the traditional family model: the woman at home, or in a small part-time job, and the man working full-time, often with overtime.

The reasons for this are varied. The lack of affordable and high-quality childcare is still an issue in many areas. But role expectations, their own and those of the environment around them, also influence this decision. In many regions it is still highly unusual to have young children cared for outside the home. Ultimately, financial factors also play a part: splitting income taxation between couples makes the model of „a single income“, or even „a single income plus part-time job“, particularly attractive. As men often earn significantly more than their partners, the decision is quickly made as to who should remain in full-time work and who is to withdraw from the labour market, or reduce their working hours drastically.

That this model has disadvantages in the long term, particularly if the couple splits up, is rarely taken into consideration when making the decision.

Solutions must be found

But how can this problem be solved? Jutta Allmendinger has brought along a few approaches. One starting point, for example, might be the redistribution of working hours amongst the couple and over the course of their lives. Instead of the father working full-time, and in the best case scenario, the mother working a small number of hours part-time, both could work a greater number of hours part-time. Reducing working hours during a particular stage in life and increasing them beyond full time at a different stage, is conceivable, and it would probably match more closely to the reality of life for many people.

A high-quality daycare system – for children and, increasingly, for other family members in need of care – is a prerequisite for balancing family and career – Photo: plainpicture

In order for models like this to work, a public daycare system is required – for both children and relatives who require care – which enables both partners to remain in paid employment. But limitless flexibility, especially in childcare, should not be the aim. In the end, it is not about „releasing“ fathers and mothers onto the labour market without restriction. Instead, families should be put in a position where they can find individual solutions that work for them, and that offer both sexes fair opportunities to have a career and family time.

Another country, similar problems

The subject of „balancing family and career“ is occupying the minds of people and, as a result, policy makers in countries beyond Germany. In the Czech Republic, the social democratic government that has been in office since January 2014 has prided itself on sustainably modernising family policy in the country. It is planning to introduce parental benefits which explicitly state that both partners should take responsibility for childcare.

This initiative and other hotly-discussed aspects of the balance between family, private life, and career, were the subject of an event organised by the FES office in Prague in February. In particular, the exchange between trade union representatives from Germany and the Czech Republic proved useful. The scenarios giving rise to the problem are surprisingly similar. In the Czech Republic, care for older family members is also playing an increasing role in the issue of work-life balance. There too, is the danger that more flexible, but also more insecure work models, might be introduced under the guise of providing balance, which could then disadvantage workers over the long-term. Say hello to the German „mini-job“: a job paying a maximum of €450 per month.

One of the main objectives of the event was clearly met: during the discussions it became clear that the question of work-life balance was not a „mother‘s issue“. It affects all of society. In order to find satisfactory solutions for everyone, men in particular must be won-over to „Project Equal Rights“. Men and their self-image in East-Central Europe was the subject of an event organised by the regional gender project of the FES in Budapest in March. Experts from Hungary, Estonia and the Czech Republic came together to discuss changing the developing role expectations of men in their respective countries.

During this rather controversial discussion, it was revealed that the roles of men as fathers is a heavily debated topic in society. Demographic factors are in some cases, more crucial than equality politics. All three countries have very low birth rates, and experts are agreed that this is primarily linked to the difficulty in balancing family and career. It is also equally hampered by the man‘s lack of participation at home.

One conclusion drawn by the event was that the choice of words was central to whether men could be gained as allies in the fight for true equality. The use of terms such as „obligatory“ or „sanctions“ with regard to the introduction of parental-leave and a parental benefit model into which fathers could be fundamentally integrated, could be counter-productive. All that could be expected from most men was a „progressive chivalry“, according to one of the speakers at the event. Accordingly, changes in the relationship between the sexes in East-Central Europe could only occur gradually. A revolution – while necessary and longed for by feminists – was unlikely. Much more important in the long-term, was ongoing dialogue. In addition, the regional gender project of the FES in East-Central Europe was making an inestimable contribution.

Author: SUSAN JAVAD, FES Berlin
Contributions from: DR SABINE FANDRYCH, FES office in Baden-Württemberg,
KATHARINA SMEJKALOVA, FES Prag,
ESZTER KOVÁTS, FES Budapest

 

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Activists for LGBTI rights in Istanbul 2013 – Photo: Reuters

Still a taboo: Homosexuality in Turkey

Homosexuality in Turkey is not a criminal offence, but with the exception of a few liberal areas in Istanbul, it is still a taboo. The AKP party, which ruled with an absolute majority of the seats in parliament for a long time, was little inclined to change the socially difficult situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI). In the parliamentary elections held on 7 June, the absolute majority of the AKP was lost. Whether this will bring additional rights to the LGBTI community, is currently unforeseeable.

With respect to the subject of homosexuality, in spring 2014, AKP attracted attention for a project in which it wanted to set up special prisons for gay, lesbian and transgender prisoners – for their protection, as the justice ministry said at the time. After all, in the existing prison system, they are simply excluded from yard exercise and the use of communal areas. That would, of course, be different in separate prisons.

The tageszeitung (taz) also quoted a speaker from the non-governmental organisation on this issue, SPoD, which campaigns on behalf of the LGBTI rights. Efe Songun explains: „It stigmatises people and legitimises hate crimes and discrimination.“

Smile, despite discrimination: those who live outside of the usual norms, are at the margins of society in Turkey – Photo: Reuters

And there is enough of that as it stands, as is made evident in the report on the EU accession countries for 2013. A summary can be found on the website of the Intergroup on LGBTI rights of the EU parliament: „Turkey was highlighted (in the report) due to the high rate of hate crimes, discrimination in the military, breaches of rights in respect of LGBTI websites online and the striking of references to sexual orientation and sexual identity in a draft anti-discrimination law.“

Against this backdrop, the SPoD organised a five-day training workshop for LGBTI activists ahead of this year‘s parliamentary elections in spring, which was also supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Istanbul. The focus of the workshop was the question of how the 30 activists from 16 Turkish cities could present their concerns to the parties seeking election.

This subject is currently of great strategic significance, as the AKP has put the drafting of a new constitution on the political agenda, and it is of central importance for LGBTI representatives that this new constitution offers them more rights and not, ultimately, fewer than before. In addition, the work on the aforementioned anti-discrimination law has not yet finished, and it remains a goal of the activists to integrate sexual orientation and gender identity into the law as categories of discrimination.

Both of these political projects are on ice for now as a result of the poor showing of the AKP in the polls. It remains to be seen, whether and if so, what kind of a coalition government will emerge. The issue of strengthening the rights of sexual minorities and the dismantling of social prejudices against LGBTI people in Turkey remains highly topical in any case.

Author: Susan Javad, FES Berlin
Contributions from Alexander Geiger, FES Istanbul

 

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Flyer for the joint event between FES and the Gewerkschaft für Erziehung und Wissenschaft (Trade Union for Education and Science) „Equal Pay for Equal Work! – Paths Out of Pay Discrimination“ in June in Berlin – designed by Andrea Schmidt

A question of equal pay!

Thanks to the minimum wage, the gender pay gap will be reduced! At lesast, that‘s according to figures calculated by the Hamburg Institute of International Economics in a new simulation study. These figures were presented by Dr Christina Boll in June at an event co-initiated by the Trade Union for Education and Science entitled, „Equal Pay for Equal Work! – Paths Out of Pay Discrimination“ at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

The minimum wage will reduce the gender pay gap by up to 2.5%, according to the statistics. But the difference will still remain at nearly 20% – yes, there is still a lot to do in Germany. The pay gap between men and women is a result of several factors: there are greater numbers of women working in lower paid jobs than men; and, the majority of working women are in part-time arrangements, many of them even in mini-jobs, where pay is capped at €450 per month. Interruptions to employment due to maternity leave, or even to care for relatives, also affect income and possible career paths. Compared to men, women are still generally at a long-term disadvantage here.

The Equal Pay Day draws media attention to this inequality every year. This year, the day was 20 March – a symbolic date to which women are working for free, while men are being paid from the start of the year for their work.

To bring Equal Pay Day to a close, the Federal State office of the FES in Thuringia organised an event which made clear that transparency is essential for equality. In the discussion on cooperation with the DGB (German Trade Union Association), the Thuringian Women‘s Council, and the Erfurt Women‘s Centre, it became clear that an equal pay law, such as that currently being planned by federal minister Manuela Schwesig, is an important prerequisite for closing the pay gap between men and women.

Manuela Schwesig is the Federal Minister for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. She has promised to do a lot in this role. The dissolution of the gender pay gap is a priority on her list – Photo: Reuters

The Federal State office in Lower Saxony participated alongside trade unions and associations in the central action group entitled, „22% more would be fair!“ and initiated a four-part series of events. With academics such as Dr Christina Boll from the Hamburg Institute of International Economics, and Christina Klenner from the Hans Böckler Foundation, as well as politicians such as Caren Marks, member of the German parliament, issues surrounding the gender pay gap were discussed. In addition, forward looking models for a better work-life balance were discussed. Topics such as family working hours which provide for state-supported reduction in working hours with wage compensation for young parents, if both partners work shorter hours.

A new publication series from FES in Berlin, the Equal Society Brief, deals with the structural foundations required in order to close the pay gap. The first edition focuses on the flip-side of the gender pay gap: themajor difference that continues to exist between men and women with regard to unpaid work. It is still predominantly women who run the household, care for their children and other relatives who require care, and organise the social life of the family. That is all extremely time consuming – time that is then unavailable for paid work. By the time they separate, become unable to work, or even suffer the death of their partner, this set-up will have had dramatic financial consequences for many women.

One solution could be to divide working hours differently between men and women. The second edition of the Equal Society Brief makes it clear that this solution has a lot going for it: ideas have long since changed, even among men, in terms of how involved they want to be outside of paid work (i.e., family working hours).

Conclusion: To actually close the pay gap, several structural factors that are the cause the pay gap must be tackled at the same time. In any case, the equal division of work and family time between the sexes will be central.

Author: JONATHAN MENGE, FES Berlin
Contributions from: EVA NAGLER, FES Thüringen
and FRANZISKA SCHRÖTER, FES Niedersachsen

 

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