" Inspiring Women - Inspiring Change"

Speech by Cornelia Seibeld MdA at the Australian Embassy in Berlin on the occasion of International Women's Day Berlin, 04.03.2014

It is the spoken word

Dear Ambassador Ritchie, Madam Bonnor, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to thank you, Mr. Ambassador and your wife, for the invitation and especially for the opportunity to be able to address here these words to you and your guests.

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, usually the international United Nations observances serve to draw attention to the problems of a minority. Today it is different. Today, the day is addressing one half of the population on the behalf of the other half of the population - truly no minorities. It is about the equality of rights and opportunities of one half of humanity in comparison to the other half of humanity.

If everything were just, we would not have to come together on this issue today.
If everything were just, then women and men would actually work equally, side by side and with one another.
If everything were just, they would decide together, they would earn the same pay for the same work, and they would receive the same pension.

But not everything is just.

And that's why today we celebrate International Women's Day.

International Women's Day is both a day to celebrate and to raise awareness. Worldwide - in Germany and in Australia - regardless of nationality, language or culture, one is reminiscent of what has been achieved for women, economically, politically and socially. On the other hand, the focus is also placed on the inequalities that still exist.

We can celebrate numerous successes in the fight for equal rights for women and men. Among them voting rights for women, fully introduced in Europe only by the early 70s, but still not self-evident in all parts of the world today. The economic independence of women in marriage had to be fought for, for example the recognition of a separate legal personality of the wife in German family law was established not so long ago.

 

The International Women’s Day must continually raise awareness. Poverty inhibits education. This finding is undisputed. And without education people have little opportunities in society. Women are much more frequently the victim of this terrible situation: Worldwide 2 out of 3 teenagers who cannot read and write are girls. Worldwide more than 66 million girls never attend school. And those with little or no education will earn less or have no income of their own.

 

Still today, we have a large gap between women and men in wage income, but even more so in retirement income. This is reason enough to steer attention again in Germany on this International Women’s day to this topic. Between the wages of women and men, there is still a large gap. In Germany women earn 23 per cent less - in Australia it is 17 percent (a little lower). The wage income gap continues as a retirement income gap for women. Women’s pensions in Germany in 2012 were almost 60 percent lower than men’s.  That is, in Germany women receive on average 59.6 percent lower retirement income than men.

The reasons for these differences stem from the history of women’s employment. Formerly, mothers were employed to a lesser extent than today. They lacked the basic conditions necessary for the reconciliation of work and family. When their children were small, there was no legal entitlement to a nursery school place, no parental leave money, no three-year sabbatical with right to return to your position, no after-school care and no all-day schools. In this situation, many mothers opted for a longer career break in order to raise their children. But life’s accomplishments are not only defined by one’s career, but also the raising and educating of one’s children.

Angela Merkel’s Federal Government ensured there will be more justice for mothers under a new law taking effect on the 1st of July this year. Currently, only one earnings point is credited per child born before 1992 to a women’s pension. The new mother’s pension law will now financially recognize two years of child-raising in the pension for all future mother retirees! This is a good step towards greater justice and a good sign on the International Women's Day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the 20th Century women have made big steps toward equal rights. Especially in politics and in career life, women are successful and their position has improved, at least on the surface.

Women became successful when they were no longer resigned to being second class citizens. When women get involved, when they begin to influence and to change their own sphere of life, then they reach leadership positions.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel practices an unpretentious, factual style of government. She embodies down-to-earth values ​​that have made ​​her the most popular political person in Germany.  She has reached this through persistent work, by continuously driving herself, and especially through influencing her environment. But even Angela Merkel states she would not have become a politician, if she had had children. And above all, it was hard work and the constant desire to be the best, which helped her to clear obstacles out of the way – obstacles that not-in-the-least where placed in her way by men.

This brings us to an important point:

Politics is unfriendly to family-and therefore to women.  Independent of how you look at it, women do a greater share of family work. Often, this is not because they have to, but because they want to. But that does not mean that they do not want to have careers, whether in politics or elsewhere.

For women, irregular working hours, evening and weekend appointments are much harder to deal with than it is for most men. Many women find it even harder to spend hours of their time in often fruitless discussions.

Of course, it is the task of policy, and especially of women in politics, to make reconciliation of work and family as much as possible. But it is an illusion to believe that having children would not be a career setback. This cannot be avoided. And most women today would not want to miss their chance at both family and a meaningful career.  Given these obstacles women must be giving financial support - also in retirement – that compensates them for their role in the family.

And one more thing is important to me: Equal rights also mean that women are free to choose whether and how they can combine work and family. It would not be my way, but still today, a woman should be free to decide to stay home, full-time, for her family.

It is wrong in my opinion, when women try to do career or politics as men do. Men and women have very different distinct abilities that, in the best case, complement each other. Without long-term persistence, without mutual support, we women cannot dispel the still existing inequality. And we need women AND men who are willing to recognize our different strengths and abilities, without a constant focus on egalitarianism. We also need families in which both partners are willing to share work and family life - in any distribution - to support the common task. It takes a society where all people are “Selbstverständlich gleichberechtigt” (self-evidently equal)– as formulated by former Berlin and Hamburg Senator of Justice Ms. Peschel -Gutzeit.

This requires concepts and no half-hearted solutions.
This requires action but no activists.
This requires perseverance, but not ruthlessness.

And continuously, it needs days such as today.

Thank you.


 
 
 

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