Six things to know about women’s rights in Germany

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Emma Anderson - [email protected]
Six things to know about women’s rights in Germany
The 'women's march' demonstration in Berlin following Donald Trump's inauguration. Photo. DPA.

For International Women's Day on Wednesday, The Local takes a look at how Germany stacks up when it comes to women's rights.


Germany may have a female Chancellor, but there are also some areas where the country could step up its game in the name of women’s rights.

1. Abortion rights

While abortions may be performed legally in Germany, the procedure is actually technically defined as “illegal” under the criminal code, and the circumstances under which it can be performed are labelled as “exceptions”.

In order to get an abortion, the following conditions must generally be met: the woman must request the abortion, undergo counselling at least three days before the operation, a physician must perform it, and it must occur within the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy. Women seeking abortions due to medical reasons or because the pregnancy was caused by a crime, such as rape, do not have to go to counselling.

A woman found to be under “exceptional distress” may also be able to have an abortion up to 22 weeks into the pregnancy, if she also undergoes counselling.

Still, the wording of the German law concerning the required counselling has a pro-life ring to it: The counselling is meant to “protect unborn life”, and to “encourage the woman to continue the pregnancy and to open her to the prospects of a life with the child”, the law states.

Insurance providers will generally cover the costs of an abortion if there is a medical risk or criminal aspect to the pregnancy. For other kinds of abortions, women must take on the costs themselves, unless they are considered low income.

2. Contraception rights

Photo: DPA

Emergency contraception - also known as the morning after pill - has been available at pharmacies without a prescription needed since 2015. Women under age 20 can have this pill covered by insurance, if the woman sees a doctor and gets a prescription, meaning those without a prescription or over 20 have to pay out of pocket.

Regular contraceptive methods like the birth control pill are not generally covered by insurance.

3. A wide wage gap

Germany has one of the largest wage gaps in Europe, with women earning 21.6 percent less than men. The European average, meanwhile, is 17 percent. And only two European countries pay women less than Germany: Estonia and Austria.

The German Federal Statistics Office reported last year that the gender pay gap can be attributed to various factors, such as the different industries in which men and women tend to work, as well as “poor opportunities for women to access certain professions or career levels, which may be the result of discriminatory structures”.

Women in Germany are more likely to work in low-paid sectors, or only part time.

When adjusted for comparable qualifications and positions, women in Germany made 7 percent less per hour than men in 2010.

4. Small amount of women are political or business leaders

Photo: DPA


About 36 percent of Germany’s parliamentary representatives are women, which placed the country 24th worldwide in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap ranking last year. This meant that Germany was directly behind Tanzania, Slovenia, Angola and the Netherlands.

When taking into account German women’s representation in other high-ranking positions - like company managers - Germany fell to 75th place worldwide with only 29 percent of women at such levels professionally.

According to an EY report earlier this year, women made up just 6.7 percent of executive boards of the 160 market-listed companies surveyed.

5. Comparatively low amount of women in higher education

While most of the more than 100 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum had either equal ratios of men to women in tertiary education, or even higher amounts of women, Germany had slightly more men enrolled.

6. But it’s trying to close the pay and achievement gaps

Photo: DPA

In recent years, Germany has pushed two different laws aimed at closing its wage and achievement gaps. The first is the so-called ‘women’s quota’, which went into effect last year. It obliges Germany’s largest companies to ensure 30 percent of all supervisory board positions are held by women.

DAX 30 companies have already met the 30 percent quota for women on supervisory boards, according to research by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW).

But the EY report from January showed that overall, the law is having a slow impact.

The second law is still yet to be passed by the German parliament, but was approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet in January. This proposal is intended to create more wage transparency as it would ask larger companies to disclose what men and women in equal positions are paid.




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