Question: Ms Baerbock, what do you think – why are women still significantly underrepresented in politics?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: There are a number of reasons, both historical and structural. In the past, women in West Germany often did not work, which meant that they also did not have it easy in the world of politics. It’s almost impossible to imagine these days, but up until 1977 a married woman in West Germany needed to obtain permission from her husband if she wanted to work. But even today, women must still overcome lots of obstacles, such as managing to combine work and family life. This is also true in political professions, where working hours vary greatly and many parliaments do not yet have adequate legislation regulating parental and maternity leave. While this is hard for men, too, women have a much heavier burden to bear. Instead of creating better conditions, often the question is asked: a woman parliamentarian with young children – will she manage?
Question: In the everyday world of politics, are men and women still treated differently?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: In day-to-day politics, when women are involved in political disputes, you can still see an additional, sexist level of attack coming into play – especially when the man they’re debating with runs out of arguments: he’ll claim their voice is “too high”, or that women are “too emotional”, “too young” or “too inexperienced”. Men simply don’t have to face these questions. And it is contemptible how much hatred and hate speech female politicians in particular must endure on the internet. So it’s not surprising that, in this situation, far too many women are still reluctant to stand for political office.
Question: What are the effects of this imbalance on political decisions?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: It clearly makes for worse decisions. You can see this in particular when you look at the condition of schools and kindergartens in our country. When fathers and especially women with young children are clearly underrepresented in parliament, then families are unfortunately not the primary focus when political decisions are made. This became bitterly obvious to parents especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
Question: How can getting involved in politics become more attractive for women?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: We need to change the structures, actively promote women, and put a stop to sexism. Every single woman who enters politics matters. During my trips to other countries, I see how important it is for young women to see that a forty-year-old woman can also hold a high government office. I have experienced this first-hand. If Angela Merkel had not been Federal Chancellor, I do not know if today I would be Federal Foreign Minister, and Nancy Faeser Federal Interior Minister. There always need to be women who open closed doors.
Question: Is the solution to introduce a quota for women?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Yes. If some parties in the German Bundestag had not instated a women’s quota, then our parliament would have even less female members than the current sad 35 percent – in fact, maybe only every fifth seat would be filled by a woman. A women’s quota in parliament would not be revolutionary; there already is one in the majority of countries in Latin America. So there’s still a lot we can learn from other countries.
Interview: Julia Stratmann