“Strong women – strong societies” - Speech by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering on International Women’s Day 2020

03.03.2020 - Speech

I’d like to tell you a story about one of my godchildren. She had just turned eight when her mother dragged her around a huge museum in Madrid. At the end of their visit, her Mum asked her if she had enjoyed herself. And the little girl said: “I did. But were there no women painters?”

I find it remarkable that she noticed something wasn’t right.

Women’s public representation is still a disaster. Yes, things are improving. But progress is very slow and sometimes it’s a case of “one step forward, two steps back”.

Sure, there were many very active women in the past 100 years who lobbied for gender equity. In my office here in the Federal Foreign Office, I have a huge poster of Marie Juchacz, the first woman to speak in the German parliament.

Unlike 150 years ago, dictionaries no longer define women as “emotional” and men as “rational” beings. But when it comes to clichés, we haven’t made that much progress. And to realise that, you don’t even need to hear some old guy joking about the last storm front.

Nancy Pelosi put it so well in Munich when she said “we’re standing on the shoulders of giants.”

I am thinking of all the women who paved the way internationally – Michelle Bachelet, Margot Wallström, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Leymah Gbowee and many others.

But not only when it comes to my own goddaughter do I see the huge opportunities for a new and often young generation of women who are active and take on responsibility. And that includes women here in the Federal Foreign Office, my dear Ms Böhm. I am talking about women who do not have to be carried, but who continue to work for progress. Last night, I met the young women from the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP), which provides us with good input for our work.

In order to empower women, we need trust in and solidarity with one another.

Otherwise, we will end up in hell, as Madeleine Albright warned us.

International Women’s Day will take place on Sunday. The motto is “Each for Equal”. I think it’s good that this motto is inclusive and includes everyone.

Reason is not gendered. We need progressive men.

And things are actually changing. For example, the topic of women, peace and security was included in the main programme of the Munich Security Conference for the first time this year.

I think the fact that more men are suddenly interested in feminist policies shows the increasing importance of this field. We don’t want to stop them from getting involved. On the contrary! For a long time now, there has been a need to finally change something long since recognised and confirmed by research. This is less about seeing facts than about implementing solutions.

Gender equity only exists if it applies in society as a whole. To achieve this, we also need legislation to close gender gaps. Equal pay must be a matter of course. And we cannot let companies get away with having the audacity to say that they have no plans to ever have a female board member. A huge issue is involved here, namely the distribution of power.

And women must have the same rights as men to exercise power.

It is good that Franziska Giffey and Christine Lambrecht are calling for laws to ensure that there are more female board members in large companies. And surely it is not too much to ask that at least one board member be a woman. That is the aim. We’re not even talking about a quota, but rather a minimum number. And I find it very telling that such a moderate suggestion is met with so much resistance.

But the perception of women – at all levels – also finally needs to change. Everyone needs to develop a particular way of looking at the world so they can see the roles still assigned to women and what women’s actual needs are.

In society, it’s far too often the case that, for example, a man and a woman enter a hospital ward, both wearing a white coat. Guess how the patients address them? Of course, the woman is “nurse” and the man is automatically addressed as “doctor”.

One reason for this is that we still make a lot of assumptions. According to the Harvard Implicit Association Test, two-thirds of people associate career with male. What gives me hope is that my goddaughter wouldn’t fall for this.

Sure, we’re in the Federal Foreign Office, not in a hospital. But diplomats in particular need to be sensitive, and that also goes for how they deal with each other. The way women are treated in public is still a disgrace at times. There are countless examples.

One of my own minor experiences was the headline in a well-known German magazine for an article about me. It said “Pin-up for the comrades”.

Naturally, all this has an impact. Different pay, under-representation – we’re all familiar with this.

It’s time for change. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee, whom I had the privilege to meet, once said: “You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoe.” She is right. The time of simply calling for change is over.

Women’s rights are one of the most pressing political issues of our time worldwide. That’s what Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said this morning.

It’s true. And one reason it’s true is that women’s rights are a fundamental question of democracy.

The figures are self-evident, particularly where power, representation and influence are involved. And these figures are not good. Foreign policy urgently needs a higher number of strong women.

If we want our international engagement to be credible, we need to ensure greater gender equity at home. As we just heard, we now have the second ever female state secretary in our 150-year history. And the portrait gallery of our ministers of state could also stand to have a few more female faces.

It’s good that the percentage of female heads of our missions abroad has risen and that women now account for a third of our Directors-General in Berlin.

And it’s good that we have now had a women’s association at the Federal Foreign Office for the past two years. I feel honoured to be its patron.

We’re moving in the right direction. But I think further ideas on how to make progress would be welcome. Why shouldn’t it be a rule in the future that there has to be an equal number of female and male state secretaries?

Why shouldn’t we copy what has worked well in other countries?

I believe that the Federal Foreign Office needs a feminist agenda with concrete goals. The report being presented today is a sign of genuine progress and provides a good basis.

We need this basis because we currently have to defend past achievements at the international level. It is no surprise that the right wing in particular focuses its attacks on feminist discourse and attempts to discredit its activists. You can now experience this on a regular basis in the Bundestag.

I see it in my talks almost every day, and we see it in negotiations, in the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.

In the year 2000, when I had just finished school, Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was unanimously adopted by the Security Council.

There were 15 votes in favour and not a single abstention. I very much doubt we would achieve that result again today, as those who oppose equal rights are on the rise.

And yet equal rights go far beyond the question of human rights.

We will keep on working. And we have plenty of opportunities to do so this year. We want to make progress.

Bärbel Kofler reported this morning on her experiences with women’s organisations. Allow me to tell you briefly about something I witnessed during a visit to Kenya last week.

We arrived in a large convoy with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a refugee camp in northern Kenya. Two women were cooking food in huge pots. They told the journalists in the delegation that five pots of food were needed every day.

Everyone stared in amazement and took photos. No one noticed the obvious – the fact that the women were cooking over an open fire, something that costs hundreds of thousands of women their lives every year in sub-Saharan Africa alone. This shows how little we look at things in terms of gender equity.

In my opinion, all the camps that are funded by international or aid organisations should have standards for this because that is what implementation means in concrete terms.

This is another reason why civil society is so important. The churches are one example, especially when dialogue about women’s rights and family planning is concerned. It is good that we have made the inclusion of civil society a priority of our Security Council membership.

And we will continue to include civil society, particularly women’s organisations, even if many of them are unfortunately unable to attend the CEDAW meeting in New York.

Ladies (and gentlemen),

Progress is not a matter of course. But it can be achieved. I believe in progress through dissent!

We need activists for this at all levels in civil society and in the Federal Foreign Office, from the divisions to the upper echelons. Democracy needs democrats. That remains true.

And so today is a great occasion to thank all the colleagues who spend hours, days and nights negotiating to achieve progress and who provide us female politicians with good ideas and specialised information. That is very valuable.

I am looking at our Directorate-General for International Order, the United Nations and Arms Control right now, but I also mean it with regard to the Federal Foreign Office as a whole.

I will continue doing my utmost in the future to nurture a culture of dissent.

Esteemed colleagues,

There is nothing automatic about history. We get to decide how this world of ours will develop.

Twenty years after the adoption of Resolution 1325, it should be clear that feminist foreign policy is a policy for peace.

Feminism is making the world a better place.


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