Women's Rights

Update 20.08.2022

Which rights do I have as a woman in Germany?

The law enshrines women's rights in many countries, but in most societies, equal rights for women are not still fully realised. In Germany, this is particularly evident in inequality of opportunities in the field of business and politics. Sexualised and domestic violence, and international trafficking of women, are among other critical issues. In Germany, women have already become more visible in the society compared to other countries, yet the women's movement is far from reaching its goal.

What do I need to know?

Women's quota in politics and business

According to the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) women and men are considered to be equal in Germany. But even though a large percentage of women have the same or higher education and qualifications, they are still very few women on the executive floors in Germany.

To increase women's presence in leading positions, the law for the equal participation of women and men in executive positions (FüPoG) has been in place since May 2015. The law was expanded in August 2021 (FüPoG II). This law requires larger private and public companies to increase the proportion of women in their supervisory committees, boards of directors and senior management positions. This so-called "women's quota" was received in different ways and is still hotly debated. Since this law has been introduced, the proportion of women in these areas has risen slightly.

The situation is the same in the political sphere: here, too, women are under-represented. Although Germany had a female Chancellor (Angela Merkel) for 16 years, the share of women in the political sphere in general and especially at the local level is still lower than that of men. German parties have different approaches toward the topic of women's quota. Some parties have fixed quotas; others do not. Overall, however, the political sphere endeavours to promote women and their participation in social and economic life.

If you feel you have been discriminated against because of your gender, you can contact the Anti-Discrimination Office at 030 - 18555 1855. You can also find a counselling centre in your area on the website of the Anti-Discrimination Office.

Alternatively, you can find non-governmental anti-discrimination counselling services in your area on the website of the Anti-Discrimination Association Germany.

Lower wages and unpaid work

On average, women earn less than men in Germany. That is partly because women work in the fields with lower payments, such as social services. Besides, women often make less money for doing the same job their male counterparts do. For years, politicians have been discussing various proposals to promote pay equality, but so far not much has changed. One day in the year has been titled "Equal Pay Day" in Germany to raise awareness of the issue.

Also, the responsibility of the household, raising children and caring for the sick or old family members are still mainly on women's shoulders - these are unpaid tasks which often are not even perceived as work. The same goes for social and cultural volunteer work, which is also carried out mainly by women.

Although more and more women work, in many families in Germany, the man is still seen as the main breadwinner, who does not have to contribute to house chores.

To find a well-paid job in Germany, the first step is to learn German. In addition to the regular integration courses, the BAMF also offers special parent integration courses and integration courses for women. There you can find information about childcare and the school system as well. Inform yourself at your local migration counselling centres, Foreigners’ Registration Office („Ausländerbehörde“), Employment Agency, Jobcenter or directly contact the schools that offer integration courses.

At stark-im-beruf.de you can find migration counselling centres nearby which help the mothers to return to work. Some of these centres offer specialised assistance to female refugees.

Right to abortion

In Germany, under certain conditions, you have the right to abort your pregnancy. An abortion can only take place during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, after a pregnancy consultation and in the presence of a doctor. After 12 weeks, termination is only possible in exceptional cases. Read more on our pregnancy chapter.

If someone wants to force you to abort your pregnancy or in case you have any questions about a possible abortion, please contact the helpline for Pregnant Women in Need: 0800 40 40 020. You can also find a counselling centre in your area at familienplanung.de.

Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

In Germany, female genital mutilation (FGM) is prohibited. Since September 2013, FGM has been punishable with imprisonment (§226A Penal Code). Even so-called "holiday circumcisions", in which some parents take their daughter to another country for this purpose, are persecuted under German criminal law. Since 2005, FGM has been recognised as gender-based persecution and a legitimate reason for asylum, but there are not many women who have actually been granted asylum or refugee status for this reason.

Common consequences of FGM include incontinence, pain, severe bleeding, complications in intercourse and childbirth, infertility, high risk of HIV and hepatitis, blood poisoning and tetanus, shock, mental trauma and depression. Sexual satisfaction is often no longer possible after FGM. Many girls die during the mutilation or as a consequence.

If you are affected by or at the risk of genital mutilation, contact the Helpline of “Gewalt gegen Frauen” at 08000 11 60 16; multilingual assistants are available and ready to help you round the clock.

In Germany, there is the possibility to reconstruct the clitoris mutilated by FGM. The reconstructive surgery is performed by plastic surgeons. For more information, you can consult a gynaecologist. In Berlin, the "Centre for Victims of Genital Mutilation" (Desert Flower Center Waldfriede – DFC) was founded to help women and girls who have gone through FGM. In this centre,  not only the physical but also the psychological effects of FGM are treated free of charge and anonymously. You do not need health insurance to refer to them.

Legitimate flight reasons specific to women

There are types of persecution that either only threatens women or affect women to a greater extent. These types of persecution are titled as legitimate flight reason specific to women, and they include:

  • specific acts of violence in the context of political, ethnic or religious persecution (e.g. abduction, enslavement and rape of Yezidi women by the IS terrorist militia in Iraq.)
  • the persecution of women through, e.g. torture, stoning or forced abortion or the threat of it with the aim of enforcing prevailing norms and moral concepts.
  • the state-tolerated persecution of women in the private sphere as a result of the subordinate position of women in society. These include, e.g. female genital mutilation, forced marriage or child marriage, forced prostitution, sexual violence, acid attacks and trafficking of women and girls.

If you are a victim of these types of persecution, during your asylum procedure, you can request female interviewer and interpreters for your hearing session at the BAMF. To do so, you should first seek advice at a counselling centre or talk to a lawyer. So far, only in rare cases, BAMF has recognised female refugees and asylum cases based on the flight reasons mentioned above. You can find counselling centres nearby at proasyl.de. You can read more about the asylum procedure in Germany in our chapter Asylum Procedure.  

Child marriage

Any civil or religious marriage in which one of the two partners is under 18 is considered to be "child marriage". Since July 2017, according to the German law regarding the age of consent, one can only consent to marriage if they are 18 or older. The laws regarding child marriage abroad have also become more stringent. When at least one of the spouses is under the age of 16 at the time of marriage, their union is automatically void. The marriages registered between the age of 16 to 18 are also nullified by judicial ruling, except in certain hardship cases. In most cases, young girls are victims of child marriage.

In addition to child marriages, forced marriages are also a big problem. A marriage is considered to be a forced marriage if it takes place against the will of at least one of the two spouses-this is different from an "arranged marriage", which is mediated by the family or a marriage mediator, but with both spouses' consent. Since February 2015, forced marriages are regarded as a particularly serious case of coercion (§240 of the Criminal Code) and are severely punished in Germany.

Family reunion with a spouse living in Germany is not possible if the union is deemed to be a forced marriage. If there is a big difference in age or when the authorities suspect that two spouses hardly know each other, their case will be particularly examined.

If you are a victim of child marriage or forced marriage or at risk of it, you can contact the Lower Saxony's crisis line for forced marriage at 0800 06 67 88 8 or email zwangsheirat@kargah.de. Their staff are available Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and also Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They can provide you with support in many languages. You can also contact the helpline 08000 11 60 16 day or night – the staff can provide you support in different languages.

Prostitution and trafficking of women

Prostitution has been legal in Germany since 2001, and it is considered to be a legitimate job. The amendment was intended to provide better protection for sex workers by making it a criminal offence to exploit them. Unfortunately, however, the law did not have the desired effect and exploitation and trafficking continue to be a major problem.

Human trafficking (including trafficking of Women) is a severe human rights crime. It has been titled a modern form of slavery and, despite the existence of an EU directive against trafficking, is still a lucrative business for organised crime groups.

If you as a woman are affected by trafficking, you can contact the Helpline “das Hilfetelefon” at 08000 11 60 16. Their staff are there for you day and night, and they speak many languages.

Violence against women

Violence against women has many faces and unfortunately takes place very often. Domestic violence is, above all, very common. According to a survey conducted by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ), every fourth woman in Germany has experienced domestic violence at least once in her life. To protect women, in 2002 the Protection Against Violence Act has been put in place. This law allows the police to take immediate and pre-judicial measures to protect the affected woman. For example, the perpetrator might have to leave the shared home immediately.

But how is violence against women defined? According to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, this includes any action that inflicts physical, sexual or psychological harm or distress on a woman merely because of her gender. The same applies to the threat of such acts of violence, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of liberty, i.e. locking up a woman in a private or public space against her will.

In Germany, there are different aid institutes available for women who have experienced physical, psychological or sexual violence, including counselling centres or women's shelters. A women's shelter is a safe house where women affected by violence can take refuge. They can live there until their situation is clarified. The addresses are confidential, which means nobody can find you there. Unfortunately, there are not enough women's shelters available around Germany,  and sometimes there is no free space in them, but the staff there will definitely help you find a way.

At www.frauen-gegen-gewalt.de and frauenhauskoordinierung.de you can seek counselling in your language nearby or search for women’s shelters in your area. There is also a Helpline for women suffering violence that you can call anytime: At the number 08000 116 016, multilingual staff are available round the clock. You can learn more about domestic abuse and how to break free in our chapter Domestic Violence.

Sexualised Violence: Rape, Sexual assault and Harassment

There is not a long way from sexual harassment to sexual assault or rape. Sexual assault refers to the sexual acts committed through violence or the threat of violence against the will of the victim. The ultimate form of sexual assault is rape. Sexual harassment happens when you are:

  • touched against your will,
  • stared at,
  • verbally abused,
  • forced to have sexual intercourse,
  • forced to watch others have sexual intercourse,
  • insulted because of your sex or gender,
  • labelled with inappropriate and lewd names,

Sexual harassment can happen in public, at home or at work, by a stranger, relative, friend, colleague or boss.

Sexual harassment, assault or rape are among criminal offences in Germany as well as many other countries. The victims can either go directly to the police or contact counselling centres (anonymously, if you prefer so) and get help. Many women, who had to flee their home countries, had to face sexualised violence during their flight and even after their arrival in Germany. If you want to talk about your experiences, you can find help at counselling and therapy centres. If you are currently being harassed or threatened, for example in your refugee accommodation centre, you can contact social workers in the accommodation centre or go to an independent counselling centre. You are entitled to safe accommodation.

At www.frauen-gegen-gewalt.de and frauenhauskoordinierung.de you can seek counselling in your language nearby and/or search for a women’s shelter. You can also call the Helpline of “Gewalt gegen Frauen” at 08000 116 016. Their staff are there for you day and night, and they speak many languages. 

Note: According to a survey by YouGov, half of the women in Germany have been sexually assaulted at least once. However, many do not dare to talk about it because of fear or shame. There are always public campaigns that want to raise awareness of these issues. A current example is the #metoo campaign. These campaigns show how vital it is that we raise our voices and make sexualised violence visible.

Important

There are several contact points for women who have experienced physical, psychological or sexual violence in Germany, namely counselling centres and women's shelters. A women's shelter is a house in which women affected by violence can find protection. You can live there until your situation has been resolved. The addresses are confidential, which means nobody can find you there. At www.frauen-gegen-gewalt.de and frauenhauskoordinierung.de you can search for counselling in your language and/or women's shelters in your area. There is also a multilingual helpline which you can reach day or night by dialling 08000 116 016.

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