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Why Friday is a public holiday in only two German states including Berlin

Zazie Atkinson
Zazie Atkinson - [email protected]
Why Friday is a public holiday in only two German states including Berlin
Women in Germany have traditionally received flowers on 'Frauentag'. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Wolf

Friday, March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a global event calling for equality and celebrating achievements of women. 'Frauentag' is also a public holiday in Berlin and for the second time in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania.

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Why isn't Frauentag a day off for all German residents?

International Women's Day became a holiday in Berlin because the German capital was the Bundesland with least amount of Feiertage, or public holidays.

Politicians in Berlin had been pushing for a new public holiday, and voted for it to be on Frauentag in 2019. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Berlin's newest public holiday

Berlin now has 10 public holidays - but it's still far behind Bavaria which has 13 public holidays or Baden-Württemberg with 12.

Meanwhile, the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania voted for March 8th become a day off for Women's Day from 2023 onward, so it will be celebrated as an official public holiday for the second time around this year.

Other states are currently considering making the day an official holiday as well.

What are the roots of Frauentag in Germany?

World Women's Day was first celebrated on March 19th, 1911 in Germany - and neighbouring countries - at the suggestion of German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin, a key figure in Germany's women's rights movement.

More than one million women took to the streets on this first International Women’s Day demanding active and passive suffrage for women. And, in 1975, the United Nations made March 8th the “United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace”. 

Clara Zetkin during the International Congress on Legal Health and Safety at Work in Zurich in 1897. Photo: picture alliance/dpa

What's the connection to East Germany?

The German Democratic Republic (GDR - former East Germany) was often dubbed a Frauenland (women’s country), a country of emancipation and equality for women – which was an official state goal in the GDR decades before there were comparable rules in the Federal Republic. 

As early as 1949, women were encouraged to participate in the workforce, something that was urgently needed for the national economy. Women’s Day was used to propagate this participation, a designated day consisting of speeches and an annual Grußwort (greeting) to GDR women from the ruling party’s Central Committee – however it remained a normal working day.

Women in the GDR would also be given poems and bouquets of flowers by children and partners alike. Specifically, it was tradition to receive red carnations.

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Historically, gender equality has been a particular sticking point in the former West Germany. For instance, women still needed permission from their husbands to work until 1977.

In the months leading up to reunification, just over half of women in West Germany were employed in the workforce, compared with 91 percent of women in communist East Germany.

Some feminists based in western Germany took a critical view of Women's Day in the Eastern Bloc states: “In the 1970s we did not know March 8th,” wrote editor of German feminist magazine Emma, Alice Schwarzer, in 2010 about what she called “Socialist Mother's Day”.

READ ALSO: Women in Germany earn nearly a fifth less than men

Schwarzer pointed out that the holiday was only celebrated superficially, rather than used as an occasion to enact true social change.

While women in the East were more financially independent than those in the West – being encouraged to work from the beginning and able to open their own bank accounts without seeking permission from their husbands, women in the GDR were largely underrepresented in state positions, with only two women making it to ministerial posts.

The typical nuclear family with women taking care of the household and children also largely remained intact, despite their increased employment.

Nevertheless, many argue that Women’s Day enabled women in the GDR to feel appreciated, and encouraged many to push for true and realised equality.

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How to celebrate Women’s Day 2024 in Germany

The Berlin official website lists a number of events held this year, including a 'Frauen*kampftag 2024' in protest of "patriarchal structures", a 'Roses for Clara' memorial which lies flowers at the foot of a statue honouring Zetkin and a 'Purple Ride' mass bike ride for greater women's rights.

Campaigners hold a sign that says 'every day is women's day' at a Frauentag demo in Berlin in 2021.

Campaigners hold a sign that says 'every day is women's day' at a Frauentag demo in Berlin in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

For the full list of events check out the link here.

There will also be events around Germany, and women are often handed out flowers on the street (or you can gift the women in your life flowers). 

 

 

 

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