How has the Covid pandemic impacted gender equality in Germany?

A new report shows that, despite progress in several areas, the average professional and economic situation for women in Germany is still often worse than that of men and is likely to have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

How has the Covid pandemic impacted gender equality in Germany?
A two-year-old child plays in the living room while his mother works on a laptop in her home office. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

A new study on the status of equality between women and men in the German labour market has shown that, in recent years, women in Germany have caught up with men in education, employment and income and, in some areas, such as educational and vocational qualifications, they have reached a higher level than men on average.

In 2019, for example, about 41 percent of women but only 39 percent of men of working age had a school leaving certificate (Abitur) or a technical college entrance qualification (Fachhochschulreife). Conversely, men more often had a lower secondary school leaving certificate.

However, the report by the Economic and Social Science Institute (WSI) of the Hans Böckler Foundation also found that there are certain areas where progress for women has slowed or even slipped backwards, particularly during the pandemic.

READ ALSO: How much do women in Germany earn compared to men?

18 percent wage gap

According to the study, there are still significant differences in earnings between men and women, with the average hourly wage for women set at €18.62 gross per hour – 18.3 per cent or €4.16 less than that of men. One reason for this is that women work part-time four times as often as men – usually in order to reconcile work and family life – which limits their career opportunities.

At the end of 2020 women’s labour force participation was still around seven percentage points lower than men: for men aged 15-64, the employment rate was 79 per cent, whereas it was 72 per cent for women.

Lower wages and labour force participation is in large part attributable to the fact that women still take on the largest share of childcare – a factor which the pandemic has cemented.

Women tend to be primary caregivers

At the beginning of the pandemic, there appeared to be a brief trend reversal as the proportion of women who provided the greater share of childcare decreased from 62 percent (pre-pandemic) to 53 percent (April 2020).

But by June 2021, the share of women providing the majority of childcare was higher than before the crisis (71 per cent vs. 62 percent), while the percentage of men providing the childcare had fallen almost back to its pre-crisis level  (7 percent compared to 5 percent).

Despite slight shifts during the Covid-19 pandemic, women have always been more likely to be the main caregiver to children.

The Institute’s gender equality researcher, Yvonne Lott, warned that “the pandemic is calling into question progress that has been made slowly over the years”. Therefore, she said, it is now important for the state and society to strengthen incentives for an equal sharing of care and work.


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Germany’s ‘fisher king’ contest should be open to women, court rules

An Allgäu woman has won a significant court battle in her fight to partake in the town's annual Fisher's Day festival alongside men. Will it affect other clubs around Germany?

Germany's 'fisher king' contest should be open to women, court rules
Men compete in the Fisher's Day festivities on July 20th 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

For years, Christine Renz was one of thousands of spectators standing on the sidelines as men hopped into the local stream of Memmingen, Bavaria, and battled to catch the biggest trout.

According to her own club – the Fisher’s Day Association – women aren’t allowed to compete for the coveted title of Fisher King in the annual festival because they would be putting local traditions in jeopardy. 

READ ALSO: Man takes east German town to court for not crowning him Apple Queen

But Renz’s longstanding battle against the association has now been supported by the Memmingen district court, which has overruled an appeal by the association to protect their right to ‘men only’ fishing.

Now, the case could have far-reaching ramifications for other ‘male-only’ traditions across Germany.

In his ruling on Wednesday, judge Konrad Beß said that the “special rights” outlined for male members in the association’s statutes are “no longer justified” by the argument of protection tradition. 

In principle, clubs are free to set their own rules for taking part in events – but, according to the court, if they treat members differently, this has to be justified by the purpose of the organisation. The custom of fishing in Memmingen is, however, “not an absolutely faithful replica” of a historical event. 

READ ALSO: Three women win Hamburg scholarship awarded to those who plan to ‘do nothing’

That means women can participate without endangering regional customs and values, Beß said. 

Fisher’s Day ‘five hundred years old’

Every summer on Fisher’s Day, participants jump into the Memminger Stadtbach (the local stream) and fetch trout out of the water with giant nets.

Whoever catches the biggest fish is crowned the Fishing King. According to the association, this tradition can be traced back to the 16th century, when the stream was fished once year to clean the waters. Women have been excluded from this by statute since 1931.

Jürgen Ziegler, the 2018 Fisher King, sits on his throne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

What does this mean for equality?

The judgment of the Memmingen district court could set a precedent for women’s participation in other male-only traditions in Germany. 

The ruling went “beyond the individual case” to be “of particular importance for the general public,” he said.

READ ALSO: Lyniv becomes first woman conductor at Germany’s Bayreuth Festival

The first chairman of the Fisher’s Day Association, Michael Ruppert, was dismayed at the ruling. “This is a day that could affect many, many clubs all over Germany,” he said, adding that it was “a shame that club autonomy was not put in the foreground”.

Following the judgement, the Bavarian State Association for the Fostering of Regional Traditions called for a calmer debate on the issue. The assumption that customs would or should not change is a historical misunderstanding, said a spokesperson for the Department for Customs, Costume, Language, Michael Ritter. 

“We just have to recognise that there is no loss in change, but rather a gain,” he said.

‘Memmingen Fisher’s Day will change’

However, the ruling on Wednesday is not yet a final decision as to whether women are allowed to participate equally at the Fisherman’s Day in Memmingen.

Due to the significance of the case, the regional court has allowed the possibility of an appeal at the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe. Having already lost its first appeal at the district court, the Fisher’s Day Association will decide whether to take this step at a delegates’ meeting on Thursday.

Christiane Renz, the complainant against the Fisher’s Day rules, says she’s ready for next year’s event. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

But Memmingen’s Mayor Manfred Schilder (CSU) emphasised on Wednesday that the judgment of the regional court was clear.

“It is now a matter of organising Fisher’s Day accordingly,” he said. “Our home festival, the Memmingen Fisher’s Day, will change”

Renz, meanwhile, is already anticipating submerging her feet in the water of the stream at the next Fisher’s Day. 

“The shoes are ready,” she said. “I’ll be at the stream on time to jump in.”