Birth rates and gender issues in Germany: challenging the taboos?

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Germany is not only one of the very few  countries, where a woman holds a leading position as a chief of country’s government, but Chancellor Angela Merkel is also   routinely called the world’s most powerful female politician. However the matters of gender issues and the steadily decreasing birth rates, still seem to be taboos and topics that are not politically correct to discuss.
The statistics speak for themselves: the birth rates in Germany are alarming: in 2010 the number of births per 1,000 inhabitants was 7.88. That’s down 16% in the last ten years and the lowest in the country’s history.

There are many factors that influence this status, but one of the main reasons is incredibly strong cult of the German mother and consequently, the old fashioned and traditional school system which does not leave any space for flexibility:

Ten years into the 21st century, most schools in Germany still end at lunchtime, a tradition that dates back nearly 250 years. That has powerfully sustained the housewife/mother image of German lore and was long credited with producing well-bred, well-read burghers. (…) Westerners are quick to denounce customs in, say, the Muslim world that they perceive as limiting women. But in Germany, despite its vaunted modernity, a traditional perception of motherhood lingers.
The half-day school system survived feudalism, the rise and demise of Hitler’s mother cult, the women’s movement of the 1970s and reunification with East Germany. (Source)

And it is still the major school-system that day today.

The feminine ideal has been ideologically defended, even to the limits of the absurd, where  looking after your own children was regarded as one of the core “western” freedoms. At the same time, the Western ‘freedom’ of German women looked bizarre:

There was no golden age for the women’s movement: until the late 1970s, there were laws, such as men could forbid their wives to work if the housework wasn’t done well enough.
Until even later, a husband had to sign a consent form if his wife wanted her own bank account. Women won’t describe themselves as feminists; if they do, they’re Kampflesbe (warrior lesbians; not camp ones). (Source)

The working mother leaving her children in the daycare for 8 hours a day is still more often the case in the post-comunist East Germany rather than in the traditional Southern part of the country.

As we read in the New York Time analysis from January 2010:

When the wall came down in 1989, East German women and West German ones had had very different experiences. In East Germany, there was universal early-years childcare, women were encouraged to have children then go straight back to work; it was rigid and it horrified West Germans. Photos circulated of 20 toddlers, sitting in a line of potties, instructed to pee at the same time, as if bodily functions could be collectivised if you started young enough.

And in German Times back in 2007:

For decades, West Germany dismissed the question of childcare as a private family problem. Under Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998), the desire for the compatibility of raising children and having a career was considered the work of the devil. Germany has a nationwide quota of childcare spaces for children under the age of 3 of just 13.5 percent. This places the country fifth from the bottom in the European Union – 35 percent is considered the EU standard.
A single-income household with mother at home as a cook, caretaker and taxi driver for the kids is naturally the ideal in conservative circles. Yet the reality is different – 80 percent of young women insist upon the compatibility of career and family. Because the state isn’t supporting them, many are putting off having children.

The image of working mother is consequently connected with the description of ‘Rabenmutter’ – a ‘rave mother’ who does not care well for her children. Ursula von der Leyen, the former Family Minister and a mother of seven, tried to challenge this status, which gave her in increasing popularity among voters, and decreasing popularity among the bishops and politicians.

Her stand on this issue was clear:

“This is a taboo we just can’t afford anymore; the country needs women to be able to both work and have children”

It sounded well, it sounded like a long time awaited wind of change on the field of gender issues in Germany. However, Ursula von der Leyen’s ideas have been challenged by her successor, the current minister for families, Kristina Schröder, who is openly uninterested in women’s rights….


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