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“Women must become more demanding”

Alice Schwarzer is the face of German feminism. In our interview she talks about equality, corona and Instagram.

Kim Berg, 04.12.2020
 Alice Schwarzer, Germany’s best-known women’s rights activist
Alice Schwarzer, Germany’s best-known women’s rights activist © picture alliance / Henning Kaiser/dpa

Ms Schwarzer, how far has Germany progressed in terms of emancipation?
Much has definitely been achieved in the past decades. The younger generations have a very different standing than we did 40 years ago. However, by comparison with other Western democracies we still have some catching up to do in Germany on some issues – such as the gender pay gap.

Have we seen a return to more traditional gender roles because of the corona crisis, the resulting closure of schools and nurseries, reduced working hours and working from home?
In some cases men will certainly have helped more with domestic chores or looking after children. But not always. “Emma” found that housework and childcare during the corona crisis were suddenly left mainly to women. This was particularly the case with younger, somewhat more privileged couples who both work. We discovered that divorce filings increased five-fold as a result of the corona crisis. In percentage terms, the highest figure was in Heinsberg, the epicentre of the pandemic.

Can the crisis also be regarded as an opportunity to achieve greater equality?
I believe that the crisis can be viewed as an opportunity for general reflection. Do we have to return to old habits? Do we need all this endless shopping? I hope that our tendency to reduce everything to outward appearances, a trend that is reinforced by social media like Instagram, will diminish after the crisis. After all, my generation and subsequent ones have fought valiantly for women to be allowed to have not only a body but also a brain. And it would be nice if we were not to lose our brains again now.

Women must take legal action to assert their rights.
Alice Schwarzer

How has the fact that more and more women work changed the female role?
In Germany, a country which coined the term “Rabenmutter” to describe women who allegedly fail to devote themselves sufficiently to their housewifely duties, we have the highest proportion of women who work part-time. The vast majority of working women still have to reconcile the demands of their job with family life. We still have too few all-day crèches and schools, so women still have to spend a great deal of time juggling all the different needs. If just as many fathers were willing to balance work and family, we would already be a step further.

1977 gründete Alice Schwarzer das frauenpolitische Magazin „Emma“.
Alice Schwarzer founded the feminist magazine
“Emma”in 1977.   
© picture alliance / EMMA/dpa

What do women need to do to achieve greater equality?

Women must become more demanding. They must take legal action to assert their rights. Policymakers and society can help create structures that open up the nuclear family again so that children are raised not only by their parents, but by an entire household or indeed the whole neighbourhood. By an entire village, as they say in Africa. It would be good if more pressure were now brought to bear on politicians, business and unions. I, for example, am a believer in the three-day working week for parents of pre-school children, as this would allow mothers and fathers to share the work more equally.


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