Women’s quota and sexism: this is how female politicians experience their parties

"I’m also visible because we are so few": four top female politicians explain what needs to improve for women in politics

Professional photo Joana Lehner

Despite upcoming or already existing quotas for women, many parties lack women.

Often it is structural problems that make it difficult for women to join a party or to become politically active. The quota can only change this to a limited extent.

Business Insider asked Silvia Breher (CDU), Ricarda Lang (Greens), Martina Renner (Left) and Serpil Midyatli (SPD) where there are problems for women in party work and how their parties are tackling them.

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Ricarda Lang (The Greens), Serpil Midyatli (SPD), Martina Renner (The Left) and Silvia Breher (CDU) – all four female politicians are the deputy federal leaders of their parties. They began their political careers in the state or district councils, where the proportion of women rarely exceeds 30 percent on average.

These women have made a career in their party. They all made a conscious decision to join a party, competed with men for office, and are now among the role models who show what can be possible for women in different parties. And yet they are in the minority in their organizations.

Business Insider asked Silvia Breher (CDU) and Ricarda Lang (The Greens), Martina Renner (The Left), and Serpil Midyatli (SPD) where these problems are for women in parties. Three of them came up again and again for almost everyone: Childcare, male networks and sexism.

"I am also so visible because we are so few in number."

"I’m also so visible because there are so few of us," explains Breher (CDU). And adds: "Where there are fewer women, they should also be specifically promoted."Breher herself became active in the CDU just under three years ago; she is now vice-chairwoman of the party and also looks after her three children. In the meantime, even the CDU is discussing a women’s quota. Structural problems, such as childcare, however, this can not solve.

"Parental leave is often only conceivable if the partner takes over," says Martina Renner. From 2002 on, she worked as a research assistant for the Left Party parliamentary group in the Thuringian state parliament. There, she was responsible for domestic policy issues; in 2009, Renner was elected as a member of the state parliament.

From that time, she says, "Even in the Thuringian state parliament, when my children were still small, I saw that it is hardly possible to get out of politics."

Also because the life partners of female deputies do not support them sufficiently. This is shown by a study of the Hanns-Seidel-Foundation from 2011, which says: "While in many cases a wife who does not work at all or only part-time takes over the family work completely for the men, it is not the case for the female deputies
the rule that their husbands have their backs from these responsibilities."

Women's quota and sexism: this is how female politicians experience their parties

CDU politician Breher, who commutes between Berlin and her home town of Loningen in Lower Saxony, says: "For me and many other women, this is incredibly difficult."There would be the bad conscience opposite the job and the family. While many men would have already read the first press reviews in the morning, the mothers would still be getting the children ready for school or kindergarten. In addition there are evening and weekend appointments. "After all, it’s fun," says Breher. "But the time just has to be there."Especially the double session weeks are hard. "That’s when I only see my kids sporadically – that hurts already and that’s how all the other moms feel too."

But the time-consuming party work starts at the local level: In a study on female local politicians commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs in 2014, the authors concluded that half of those surveyed spent more than 20 hours on honorary local political office in some cases, and even up to 30 hours in the case of high-profile offices such as parliamentary group chairmanship. And this is often done in addition to her actual job and caring for children.

"It is actually more difficult to find women who will then also volunteer"

Serpil Midyatli (SPD) knows how intensive local party work is. She was a member of the local council for the Kiel district of Gaarden for six years and has two children. She believes the enormous time commitment could also be a reason why fewer women join parties despite quotas.

"It is actually more difficult to find women who then also become involved on a voluntary basis." Therefore, parties would need to target women and address their needs, such as child care. Still, Midyatli notes, "There’s a glass ceiling, like in companies, that keeps women from moving up the ladder."So far, there are too few models that allow women with children to hold political office part-time.

And there continue to be obstacles in politics for women without children, too.

Exclusive men’s circles continue to exist – albeit less publicly

Ricarda Lang (The Greens) was born in 1994. When she was eight years old, Gerhard Schroder gave equal representation to his cabinet (1998). Only with him were the men in the majority. The federal government has never been so female before. But the impression that women would be more and more represented in politics was not confirmed for Lang.

The image that politics has always given in recent years and decades would be particularly unattractive to young women, the Green believes. "When I look at pictures of the Bundestag and government meetings, as a young woman I feel: this is not the reality of my life," she says. Men still dominate the official government photos, men’s networks still exist in the parties, where women do not find a connection.

"In the end, men just meet in the evening for a cold drink."

"Because the Greens are a feminist-oriented party, however, it would be frowned upon to form official male networks," Lang recounts. They tend to arise informally.

Renner has the same experience in her party. Networks of men continue to exist in the Left Party. "They’re not maintained as naturally as they were in the past because more people are paying attention," she says. But: "In the end, men just meet for a cold drink in the evening."That would have to be addressed.

Women's quota and sexism: this is how female politicians experience their parties

In a 2015 research paper by the Progressive Center, an independent Berlin-based think tank, the authors described male networks as an invisible hurdle and a career brake. On the one hand, because women would not be sufficiently involved if men made decisions in back rooms or over beers. This would become apparent when men stuck together in votes. On the other hand, women are not taken seriously because they do not really belong.

CDU politician Breher noticed this especially when she was newly elected to the Bundestag. There, few female parliamentarians of the CDU had already been active in the Junge Union. "But that’s where it starts, building a network," she says. "We need women from the very beginning. That gives a feeling of togetherness."She also notices in her work: "You have to assert yourself against male silos. Women often lack broad-based networks to begin with."

The authors of the Progressive Center also picked up on this point. They conclude that women are at a disadvantage to their male party colleagues. The reason: They would have a different networking behavior, but not less active. As a result, this leads to closer, personal relationships, but also to less broad networks, the paper says. The authors write: "Although [women] form more intimate and stable relationships in the long term, they find it more difficult to combine professional and personal life
Separate private network."In practice, this makes strategic networking difficult.

"As a woman, there’s often a feeling that networking is something dirty"

Ricarda Lang knows this phenomenon. "As a woman, you often have the feeling that networking is something dirty," she says. Men often do this automatically, women find it more difficult. "At the same time, there is nothing reprehensible or dirty about seeking power in a party, as long as you don’t see it as an end in itself."

In the Green Party, informal spaces are therefore deliberately designed; everyone goes out for a beer or something to eat together, and new members are also invited, says Lang. Silvia Breher and Martina Renner both talk about women’s networks that have been formed in their parties to support each other.

Also against everyday sexism.

"Even though we are a feminist party, we are not free of sexism"

"Of course, in caucus meetings there’s sometimes a saying: ‘I’d like to be with whom’ or ‘What would I do with whom,’" Renner recounts. It is usually the older and always the same colleagues who make sexualized jokes, he said. These are mostly socialized in another time, explains Renner the. However, this old-guard behavior is not a fundamental problem among the left-wingers.

Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner talks with Family Minister Franziska Giffey

Ricarda Lang also sees the problem with the Greens: "Even though we are a feminist party, we are not free of sexism."In her opinion, what makes the difference is whether parties are aware of this and tackle the problem head-on. "We take the problem of sexism seriously and are working to overcome it."

In the left it is handled similarly: "It is important to make this an issue. Only some have already no desire to address it at all", tells Renner.

"As a party, you have to start promoting women early on, then later on you won’t get the question: ‘Why isn’t there a woman up there??’"

The fact that the statements of all female politicians overlap makes it clear that there are still structural problems in political parties. This includes the fact that political office and childcare are often difficult to reconcile; that male networks still exist and can exclude women, but also that sexism continues to be a daily occurrence.

At least, the problems are recognized and addressed. The conservative CDU wants to introduce a women’s quota; the Greens are developing new part-time models for local associations so that women can get more involved in politics; the SPD wants to elect a new equal opportunity commissioner soon; and the Left Party is already entrusting women with issues such as domestic policy so that they can enter into sharp disputes.

SPD Vice Serpil Midyatli says: "As a party, you have to start promoting women early and specifically at the local level, then the question will not come later: ‘Why is there no woman up there??’"

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