What you need to know about women's rights in Germany

The Local
The Local - [email protected]
What you need to know about women's rights in Germany

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


Germany has a female Chancellor, and overall it has a good record on sexual equality. In the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report for 2017 Germany placed 12th overall in a comparison of 144 countries for economic participation, educational attainment, health and political empowerment.

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.

The oddity of the German abortion law was highlighted at the end of last year when a doctor was fined €6,000 for “advertising” her abortion services online. On her website she provided information for patients about the abortion procedure.

2. Contraception rights

Photo: DPA

Emergency contraception - also known as the morning after pill - has been available at pharmacies without a prescription 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 21.5 percent less than men. The European average, meanwhile, is 16.2 percent.

Source: Statista

The German Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) reported in 2016 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”.

Interestingly though, the gender pay gap is reversed in much of former East Germany, where women actually out-earn men. A study by the Institute for Employment Research showed that in Cottbus, Brandenburg, a woman earns 17 percent more than a man on average.

More recently Destatis reported in March that while 72 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 55 could earn a living and support themselves in 2016, this figure was 86 percent for men in the same age group.

4. Small amount of women are political or business leaders

Photo: DPA

Just over 30 percent of Germany's current parliamentary representatives are women, the worst ratio that has existed since 1998.

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

Germany was only ranked 43rd by the Gender Gap Report 2017 for women’s economic participation and opportunities, coming directly behind Cameroon, Russia and Australia.

According to an EY report from last 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. It also ranked a poor 98th in the report's ranking on educational attainment, wedged between Vietnam and Tunisia.

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

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 in 2016. 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 came into effect at the start of 2018 and was designed to tackle the nationwide gender pay gap.

The legislation, which came into effect in Europe's top economy on January 6th, gives an employee the right to know how their salary compares with that of colleagues of the opposite sex doing similar work.

The hope is that more transparency will reveal whether women are paid less than male peers - and bolster their demands for a rise or pave the way for possible legal action.

With DPA


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also