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Why there are so few women in the Bundestag and what this could mean

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Why there are so few women in the Bundestag and what this could mean
30.7 percent of lawmakers in the Bundestag are women. Photo: DPA.
12:00 CET+01:00
This is the least female German parliament since 1998. But why? In light of the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal which has highlighted issues such as sexism in the workplace across the globe, what could this gender imbalance mean for the Bundestag?

The number of women in parliament had risen continually since 1972, when only 6 percent of lawmakers in the Bundestag were women. In the last parliament 36 percent of MPs were female, but that streak has now been broken.

Currently 30.7 percent of MPs are women; the last time there were so few females in the Bundestag was in 1998.

In the wake of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein being accused of harassing, sexually coercing and even raping actresses for years, issues such as sexism and gender equality have recently come to the fore. There have been repeated calls for action across industries that span from entertainment to politics.

READ ALSO: 'Men touched my body and I was surprised; I thought this doesn't happen in Germany'

But can policies regarding gender equality be implemented in the German parliament, where the number of men heavily dominates the number of women?

"You don't have to be a woman to pursue women's politics. After all, you don't have to be sick to be a health minister," said Andrea Römmele, professor of political communication at the Hertie School of Governance.

Katja Dörner, a Green party politician, agrees.

“Of course gender equality politics can also be done by men,” Dörner said, while cautioning that important gender initiatives have been introduced by women in recent years.

"Women from across the parties were all in accord on theses issues," she says.

But Dörner believes that gender policy will continue to be a major issue in the Bundestag, not least because these issues are repeatedly brought into parliament by society.

And why is it that so few women sit in the Bundestag at present?

"Firstly, there's the effect of the new factions in parliament,” said Römmele. 

“With the entry of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) into the Bundestag, there are two groups that are enormously masculine-oriented," she said.

The AfD has by far the least number of women in its ranks among all parties. Only 10 of its 92 MPs are female. The FDP has 19 female members of parliament out of a total of 80 members.

But AfD politician Peter Felser believes this imbalance of genders in the AfD has nothing to do with the party’s conservative, family-oriented image. He thinks many women are less interested in the "first topic of the AfD, the rescue of the euro".

Before the AfD morphed into an anti-immigration outfit, it began life in 2013 as a eurosceptic party.

In addition, Felser said, it would take effort to commit oneself to the AfD because it would entail a certain kind of social ostracism. Felser thinks this turns women off.

The situation is different with the Green party and die Linke (the Left party) - over half of the MPs are women in both these groups. This is due to the fact that the parties have a female quota of at least 50 percent and they have an equal representation of males and females on their electoral lists, Römmele said.

Römmele also sees the current distribution in the electoral system as a cause of the gender imbalance. She says that while gender equality can be controlled on party lists, this isn't so easy for direct candidates.

In the general election, voters place two crosses on their ballot - one for a district representative and one for a party.

The vote for a candidate is called the "first vote," where a voter selects a candidate to represent his or her district in the parliament. Voters cast their ballot for a political party instead of a single candidate in the "second vote."

Men tend to be pushy and assert themselves as direct candidates, said Dörner, adding that a quota can change personnel policy so that women's talents are specifically promoted.

But according to Römmele, it’s not only the proportion of women in parliament that counts.

“It is also about women in leading positions.”

It will be really exciting when the ministerial positions are filled and to take a look at the distribution (of women and men) then, Römmele said.

SEE ALSO: 'Younger, fewer women': 10 things to know about the new German Bundestag

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