Do we need a gender equality law?

Background current

On July 1, 1958, the "Law on Equal Rights for Men and Women in the Field of Civil Law" came into force. An important milestone - but women are still disadvantaged to this day.

If they helped the woman wash the dishes every now and then, that was "equal rights" enough for many men in the 1950s. Scene from the film "Everything goes better with singing" (Welcome Stranger) (& copy picture-alliance / akg)

The fathers and mothers of the German Basic Law had already stated: "Men and women have equal rights" - as the Parliamentary Council put it in Article 3 of the Constitution. But in reality this goal remained a noble wish in the years after 1949.

Legal supremacy of the man from the imperial era

In the post-war period, the laws of the imperial era still applied in many areas in the Federal Republic of Germany: As regards the legal relationship between women and men, the Civil Code (BGB) of 1896 clearly stipulated that the man was the head of the family and that he had responsibility in all marital affairs in the last instance sole decision-making authority. In paragraph 1354 of the BGB of 1896 it was written literally: "The man is entitled to make decisions in all matters relating to joint conjugal life; in particular, he determines the place of residence and residence."

In the post-war years, women were also legally dependent on their husbands: wives were only allowed to open accounts with the consent of their husbands. They were also prohibited from taking up gainful employment against their husband's will. The man was even able to take the key to the shared apartment from his wife. The Basic Law of 1949 stipulated in Article 117 of these regulations that laws that opposed equality between men and women could remain in force until March 1953 - but should then be replaced by new legal regulations.

Therefore, the government consisting of the Union, FDP and German Party (DP) under Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) presented a first draft law in 1952. This draft provided for more rights for women, for example when taking up their own gainful employment, but the man's right to make decisions, the so-called casting vote, was to be retained.

Lengthy reform process

In December 1953, the Federal Constitutional Court made it clear that since the expiry of the period set in Article 117, men and women have also had equal rights in the area of ​​marriage and family. But the legislative process dragged on, further motions from the parliamentary groups followed, and a "Family Law Act" subcommittee was founded. The husband's casting vote remained a point of contention between the parties - the committee was able to agree to remove the man's final decision-making right from the federal government's draft law.

On the day of the vote: Many seats in the Bundestag remained empty

It was not until May 3, 1957 that the "Act on Equal Rights for Men and Women in the Field of Civil Law" was finally on the Bundestag's agenda. The parliamentary discussion again dealt with the man’s right to make decisions, women’s gainful employment and the fundamental relationship between men and women in the family: The CDU / CSU parliamentary group wanted to include the so-called casting vote in the draft law again. Union politician Karl Weber argued that this made sense with regard to Article 6 of the Basic Law, which guarantees the protection of marriage and family by the state. Karl Wittrock (SPD), on the other hand, spoke of a "joint responsibility" of the spouses. In the end, it remained with the elimination of the final decision-making right for the man.

More rights for wives - the changes at a glance

On the subject of "employment of women", the members of parliament agreed on a compromise: A woman was also allowed to work against her husband's will - but only as long as she did not neglect her family: Marriage and family is compatible, "stated the 1957 law.

The Bundestag passed the law unanimously, despite some major concerns from male MPs, especially in the Union and DP. An essential innovation of the law was the introduction of the so-called gain community. Women no longer automatically left empty-handed in a divorce. Everything that both partners generate together during their marriage was now divided equally between the partners.

With the community of gains, the legislature also wanted to prevent women who did not work or only for a short time because of the upbringing of children from becoming a social case after a divorce in old age. Women were also allowed to keep their own accounts without the consent of their husbands and henceforth to dispose of their own assets. What a spouse brought into the marriage as possessions still belonged to him - even after a divorce. The paternal privileges in bringing up children were also restricted, but remained in part until a constitutional court ruling in 1959. On July 1, 1958, the new regulations came into force.

First step on a long way

The so-called Equal Rights Act of 1958 was not yet able to achieve comprehensive, formal equality of rights for men and women - further legal reforms followed in the following decades: for example, there has been statutory maternity protection for working women in Germany since 1968. In 1970 the custody of the mothers and the maintenance claim against the fathers were strengthened.

It was not until 1977 that a new reform of marriage and family law in the BGB removed the rule that women were only allowed to work as long as they did not neglect the family. In the course of this reform of marriage and family law, the legislature also deleted the model of housewife marriage from the BGB - from paragraph 1356 "The woman runs the household on her own responsibility. She is entitled to be gainfully employed, as long as this is compatible with her duties in marriage and family." has been: "The spouses regulate the housekeeping by mutual agreement."

In the years that followed, women's rights in the workplace and maternity protection were further strengthened. However, it took until 1994 for the following sentence to be added to Article 3, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law: "The state promotes the actual implementation of equality between women and men and works towards the elimination of existing disadvantages."

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