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Keynote von Staatsministerin Michelle Müntefering auf Einladung des Ambassador Club e.V. und seiner Präsidentin sowie der Botschafterin der Französischen Republik in Berlin: „Women in Politics and Diplomacy

13.10.2020 - Rede

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today.

It’s almost a minor miracle that we’re actually able to meet here at the Ambassadors Club.

We also have the Ambassador to thank for this.

Anne-Marie Descôtes, I’m most delighted that we’re able to see each other again today.

And, above all, I’m delighted to see that you’re all in the best of health.

2020 is, already now, a year that will occupy a special place in the history books. However, we all imagined that this chapter would turn out differently.

This year should have been a year about greater gender justice. We’re celebrating two important anniversaries right now!

Twenty-five years ago, the international community promised in Beijing to promote gender equality in all areas of society.

When we look at pictures from back then, we see women from all around the world embracing one another. All cultural and linguistic differences were put aside in the attempt to achieve something that should actually be a matter of course: equal rights for everyone.

Those who were there at the time still talk with great enthusiasm about the sense of a new dawn that was in the air.

Five years later, precisely 20 years ago, the UN Security Council in New York adopted Resolution 1325. A further milestone.

The Resolution enshrined a principle that has lost none of its importance. Namely that women belong at the negotiating table. It’s vital to listen to female perspectives, especially in crises.

And History has proven Resolution 1325 right. Today, we know that peace agreements last longer when women are involved in negotiations.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Did you follow the general debate of the United Nations via live stream this year, 20 years later?

If so, then you probably had a déjà vu during the first one and a half days: an endless series of black suits.

Diversity was, once again, limited to the question: “spotty or stripy tie”.

Indeed, it took one and a half days before a woman had the chance to be heard. Speaker number 51: Jeanine Añez Chávez from Bolivia.

And yet the peaceful revolution in Sudan last year wouldn’t have been possible without women. In Belarus, too, it is courageous women who are leading the protests against an authoritarian regime.

If you had have asked women in the year 2000 where we would stand 20 years later, the answer in most cases would have been quite optimistic. I was barely 20 at the time and had finished school.

My vocational training was already in the bag and I was working at a local newspaper as a freelance journalist. Afterwards I applied for a university place and volunteering for Jusos, the youth organisation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

The election campaign was dominated by two alpha males: Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer, from the SPD and the Green Party.

During the campaign the former mayor of my hometown walked up to the election stand, patted me on the shoulder and said: “Young lady, there are people coming. Stick out your chest.”

He didn’t mean it in a bad way. I had discussions with him on a number of occasions later on. But I sensed that I would need a lot of calmness in my way ahead.

It was good that I wasn’t aware at the time of the testosterone-laden attitude that was awaiting me in politics.

I also encountered this attitude among journalists, both female and male. I remember a portrait entitled “Pin-up for the comrades”. Frankly, it wasn’t so easy for a young woman to get along with this.

Fortunately, such a behaviour is not as frequent anymore as it used to be.

This is also a result of more awareness in civil society. And yet women continue to be judged very differently – simply because they’re women.

This isn’t something that I need to tell you. A woman can never get it right. Children, no children, career, household – women always have to justify themselves.

The truth is: Political power arises not only through function, not only through ideas, but through perception.

We are at a disadvantage when we are women, gay or black. Because too often we are reduced to that.

Unfortunately, we’re still far away from being just accepted as we are. We can see that progress is like a snail. And even more: a snail that sometimes even goes around in circles. And yet women and their voices are so urgently needed in the world of today.

Two decades after Resolution 1325, things have begun to slide.

Nationalism and populism are back, also here in Germany.

We have a responsibility in times that are perhaps the most decisive since the Second World War. We have a responsibility to make a path to the future. For all of our countries and for Europe.

The global balance of power is shifting. The multilateral world order is coming under pressure. The conflict between the US and China is getting more and more complicated.

Climate change calls for a global effort. Nationalism and populism are on the rise.

In this world, we need strong voices for multilateralism and international cooperation. We have to remember what is at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations: the equality of all human beings. This also includes of course the equality of the sexes.

And yet ever more countries are seeking to undo the progress made in recent years.

Even countries that we would never have expected to do so have gone into reverse.

Coronavirus is making this development even worse. In this crisis, women are doing the lion’s share of care work. And what makes things even worse: it’s much harder to cultivate the networks that are so important in times of lockdowns and social distancing.

Esteemed women,
The virus is not only a medical threat. It also endangers economic development and political stability. In this situation, it’s all the more important to prevent women from being pushed to the margins once again.

But we wouldn’t be here today, if we were to put our heads in the sand.

We simply cannot stand by and allow that women are still considerably underrepresented in management positions.

Or accept that they still earn far less than men.

This is also a problem for us in Germany and in Europe. But what a lack of equality means can be seen all around the world.

When I accompanied Federal President Steinmeier on a trip to Kenya at the beginning of the year, I saw once again what a gender-conscious, feminist foreign policy means.

We were travelling with a large group in the north of the country and visited a refugee camp.

Two women were cooking food in large pots. “Five pots of food were needed each day”, the women told the journalists in the delegation.

Everyone was amazed and took photos. But no one noticed what was obvious, namely that the women were cooking over an open fire. This costs hundreds of thousands of women their lives every year in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

This shows how little we literally look at things in terms of gender equality. And it shows how much we can achieve if we take small, but gender-sensible measures.

And it also shows that gender equality is not least about stability, crisis preparedness and sustainable development. Gender policy is peace policy. This is precisely the reason why foreign policy must become more female.

This year, we featured the issue of a feminist foreign policy in the main programme of the Munich Security Conference for the first time, together with the UK.

Among the participants was Hamsatu Allamin from Nigeria. After her eldest son was kidnapped by Boko Haram, she became a peace activist. As a woman she is at the heart of the action, speaking to victims and former fighters alike.

The importance of gender issues in the foreign policy discourse is reflected by events such as these.

The African Women Leaders Network is a strong partner for us on the continent in this regard.

Moreover, we have, together with Heiko Maas, founded the women’s network Unidas. I’m member on its advisory board. Unidas is supporting women’s NGOs in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 240 members and partner organisations have since joined the network.

It’s vital now to implement Resolution 1325; there’s no time to lose.

We will focus on “women peacebuilders in peace processes”. Support, funding and protection are the three keywords here.

We could quote a “boy band” when we say “we’ve come a long way” – but it’s true that Germany has finally arrived on the international stage of women’s policy.

In a study that we ourselves commissioned, we asked our partners how they view and assess this commitment.

The outcome is honest – and a source of encouragement for me. We are indeed now actually perceived as an actor.

However, the study also concluded that “feminist foreign policy is not yet part of our DNA”.

I can agree with that. The Federal Foreign Office is anything but female.

When I get to the office and pass by the pictures hanging in the corridor, the portrait gallery, I primarily see men.

And, of course, there’s a number of wonderful predecessors such as Hildegard Hamm-Brücher.

In fact, I’m the first female Minister of State from the SPD at the Federal Foreign Office.

When Willy Brandt appointed the first female Ambassador in 1969, the personnel card that she had to fill in requested information about the “wife’s nationality”. Having a female diplomat, who takes her husband abroad with her, was simply unconceivable.

Since last month, a room has been named after her – Ellinor von Puttkamer – at the Federal Foreign Office. The snail is creeping forwards after all.

Around half of the employees at the Federal Foreign Office are now women. And we now finally have a female State Secretary once again: Antje Leendertse is only the second woman to hold such a post in our ministry’s 150-year history.

A number of our biggest embassies are also run by women, including Washington, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. All in all, one in five German missions abroad has a female boss.

And maybe you have also seen in today’s newspaper that the first German Embassy in the history of the Foreign Office is led by way of jobsharing by an ambassadorial couple now.

But despite this progress, we must clearly state: If one in five missions is run by a woman, this also means that 80 percent of our ambassadors are still male.

I imagine that the situation isn’t entirely different in many other foreign services around the world.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to hearing your impressions and experiences.

And I must say that I’m delighted every time I find that I have female counterparts in other countries. And they’re out there. My female counterpart from Finland was the most recent to visit me.

The proportion of women in the German Bundestag currently stands at 31 percent.

The last time it was that low was after the elections in 1994.

And of course it’s a question of justice that this should change – but it’s also urgently necessary. Women in Germany deserve to be reflected in politics.

They still lack a lobby group. For example, the German Association of the Automotive Industry has around 70 representatives in Berlin alone.

Meanwhile, single parents lend their support to volunteer organisations.

Esteemed women,
Personal exchange and mutual encouragement are extremely important. After all, it’s true that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants here. We need the knowledge and experience of the generations that went before us in order to avoid starting out from scratch.

At the end of the day, arguments and counterarguments repeat themselves all too often in the history of the women’s movement.

I am convinced: A law that ensures gender parity in parliaments is necessary. The idea behind it: party lists must be made up of women and men alternately.

If I remember rightly, there’s been a law on gender parity in politics in France for 20 years now.

I’d be delighted if Ambassador Descôtes could tell us about her experiences in France in just a moment.

Taking the perspective of women into account in foreign policy discussions should be a matter of course in the future. I can only recommend that you insist that other women also take part in conferences and panels that you are invited to.

At the Federal Foreign Office, we have now set ourselves the following objective: at least 40 percent of the participants, moderators and panellists should be women.

However, I’m under no illusion here.

I know that women who are in the public eye and who have an opinion are facing a lot of opposing wind.

We’re all dealing with this in different ways. But we’re all sharing the same fate: We constantly face personal attacks. I usually don’t make a big deal about this in public. But I admit that being in the public eye changes things.

Only this week, I found many comments that questioned my qualifications in foreign policy just because I worked for two years in a kindergarten as part of my vocational training.

Sometimes, I was tempted to say in reply that my training as a kindergarten teacher was probably the best preparation for the world of politics. Joking aside, the problem with such attacks is the fact that they’re systematic.

It’s all the more important that we now take a closer look at this. And it’s sometimes painful because it affects all of our societies. Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor and Ronan Farrow were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

It’s a fact that not only great staying power, but also tremendous courage are needed in order to change something.

The best thing is for us to give each other this Courage.

Across party lines. Across borders. And here: this evening.

Ambassador, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is going to two women this year. One of them, Emanuelle Charpentier, is a women researcher working in Germany. Together with Jennifer Doudna she discovered how the genome of plants, animals and people can be changed.

So last but not least there’s hope yet for the DNA of the Federal Foreign Office.

Mr. Hoeck,
I haven’t forgotten about you tonight. This evening is not a female secret; we need the clever men on our side.

So your cleverness is obvious – organizing such an event. Thank you for this. And for your Attention.


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