Interview with a “professional feminist” – Lilli Feit, Germany

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Women form more than half of our world’s population. UN Women has pledged to defend women’s rights and accomplish gender equality: so far, 14 national committees have been established in different countries. Lilli Feit has interviewed the directress of the German office in Bonn, the political scientist Bettina Metz-Rollshausen, for United Youth Journalists.

It is well known that women and men are very often not equally reimbursed in Germany. In which fields of society do women still lack the same rights as men?

Metz-Rolshausen: One very important point that is an issue right now is violence against women. Our current law governing sexual offences, must be blue penciled urgently [=revised]. At present, a woman needs to prove that she has been defending herself, otherwise the corpus delicti [=Physical evidence] of rape  cannot be confirmed. If the woman does not have any cinch marks or has [not] screamed, it will not be considered rape. Germany cannot participate in the latest European agreement, aiming to protect women against domestic abuse, the Istanbul Convention, because our law governing sexual offences falls short of international standards. Even groping strangers is simply not prosecutable.

In your opinion, what is the greatest obstacle to gender equality?

Metz-Rolshausen: The understanding of one’s role, the stereotypes! All of us grew up with an image of which duties men and which duties women should fulfill. It is important to show men that at the end of the day they [could take] advantage of gender equality as well! Nobody really wants to work sixty hours a week. There are lots of men who would be happy to work part-time as well, or have one free day a week in order to spend more time with their children. To achieve that, we have to raise more awareness in society.

What is your personal definition of feminism and is it the same as gender equality?

Metz-Rolshausen: Yes, exactly! I consider myself a “professional feminist”, yet I try to use this expression very consciously, because I do not want it to be charged negatively. When I was about 25 or 30 years old, a feminist was somebody with purple dungarees and a pair of Birkenstock slippers, a “bra burner”. But times have changed since. I recently read an article in “Zeit Online” by two men who wrote about why men should be feminists, on how they profit of gender equality! Our objective is not only to claim women’s rights; No, we fight for both genders to be equal!

Angela Merkel is the first female chancellor of Germany; would you denote her feminist because of that?

Metz-Rolshausen: Well, when Merkel started off as a chancellor she did not dare to speak up for women’s rights in public. I assume she did not want to want to risk being lead into that corner. But the statements which she publicly made last year are insane. At the G7 summit, she ensured that the economic empowerment of women was going to be discussed as well both in Japan [this year] and the following ones. Even in New York, when the “Agenda 2030” for sustainable development was being discussed, she explicitly argued in favor of women’s empowerment and that Germany wants to take a pioneering role in gender equality.

The women quota has been discussed a lot in Germany. What is your stance? Should not it be decided solely based upon academic qualification if somebody will possibly be employed?

Metz-Rolshausen: That would be great, but if it was the case, there would be far more women in executive positions. Also, the women quota will only be obligatory to supervisory committees, executive boards, a couple of companies and civil service. But the discussion itself is [a] very good [thing] and especially now that all these companies need to submit a statement on how they [should] ensure to have enough women in their board of directors. Of course, it is convenient and tempting to cling onto old structures, but they will realise that every company [draws] advantage [from] mixed teams; they are always more successful than homogenous all-men or all-women teams.

After the New Year’s Eve events in Cologne, voices have been raised claiming refugees and migrants would endanger the safety of “German women”. Do you consider this statement reasonable?

Metz-Rolshausen: Not at all. It is absolutely unjustified to accuse the refugees per se to be violent. From a statistical point of view, a women is at a higher risk of being abused in her marriage than by any refugee in the streets. In reality, it is a societal problem. At the Cologne carnival or the Oktoberfest there is a lot of sexual harassment as well. Strangely enough, it appears to be [more] accepted there overall. I think that [with] New Year’s Eve, more women came forward, because they realised: “I am not the only one!“

In Germany, there is a terrifyingly high number of cases of domestic abuse. About eight out of nine of the victims are women. That makes 80% women and 20% men. There are also lots of shelter homes for the victims to be found in Germany. However, percentagewise, far less than 20% of these shelters are open to men. Do you have an explanation for that?

Metz-Rolshausen: Because it is a huge taboo! For a long time, it [has been] known that our society has huge issues with domestic violence. Before, people were convinced that women were the only victims, but by now we know that men can be in need of protection as well. Aid to men that have been abused must be given by other men. Nevertheless, acceptance for homosexual behaviour has been increasing vastly during these past years and I think that society is also becoming more sensitised to this.

If this movement grows even more, do you believe that one day, women will be equal to men, that your job and the entire UN Women won’t be need?

Metz-Rolshausen: Oh yes, sure! I will probably not see it until I retire; yes, not in my lifetime, but gradually, that time will come, I am certain. What is our slogan again? “Planet 50/50 by 2030!“

Wow, what an ambitious goal!

Metz-Rolshausen: Yes, it is the end of the “Agenda 2030”. I think sooner or later we will accomplish that.

Sounds like the perfect closing words. Ms. Metz-Rolshausen, thank you very much for this interview!

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