Merkel Has Failed to Close the Gender Gap in German Politics

A common quip among Germans in the run-up to this year’s federal election is to ask whether men have what it takes to be chancellor, but the reality is that women still have a tough time entering politics in Europe’s largest economy. 

Despite running Germany for 16 years, Angela Merkel has struggled to inspire the next generation of female politicians. And beyond the traditional gender divide, things are even worse. In this year’s election, only one non-binary person -- the first to be recognized as such -- is running for office out of more than 6,000 people. 

While a record number of women are campaigning in this year’s election cycle, there are still thousands more men seeking office, according to data published this week by the Bundeswahlleiter -- Germany’s top election official -- and analyzed by Bloomberg. 

Merkel Has Failed to Close the Gender Gap in German Politics

Women make up 33% of Germany’s 6,211 candidates this year, compared to 29% during the last election in 2017. While their numbers are relatively low, they tend to perform well at the ballot box. The share of female candidates who ultimately entered German parliament is higher than the share who ran and has been that way for about two decades.  

Merkel Has Failed to Close the Gender Gap in German Politics

In terms of parties, Merkel has had an impact on her conservative bloc, which is vying with the Greens for the most women seeking office this year. That said, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer -- Merkel’s hand-picked protege -- stepped down after a series of gaffes, and the leadership of the Christian Democrats is now dominated by men.

Merkel Has Failed to Close the Gender Gap in German Politics

There are also significant geographical differences. In the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, which borders Denmark, the share of female candidates has improved the most under Merkel and is now the highest in the country. 

But the lack of progress in states like Bavaria and the former communist East -- where Merkel is from -- highlights how Germany still has a long ways to go in terms of political diversity.

Merkel Has Failed to Close the Gender Gap in German Politics

Merkel, who is preparing to leave the political stage after the Sept. 26 election, has acknowledged these deficiencies for years. In late 2018, she called it “an elemental issue for our democracy” and as recently as last month bemoaned the lack of progress. 

“Many female politicians are still today subjected to verbal abuse, threats and even blatant hatred,” she said at a premier of a documentary about women in West German politics. “To put it bluntly: we haven’t yet achieved actual equality between women and men in Germany. Much remains to be done.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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