Country Listing

East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

Women and the Democratic Women's League of Germany

The Constitution guarantees equality of the sexes. Women are afforded equal rights before the law and "in all spheres of social, state and personal life." The East German record in the area of women's rights has been good. Women have been well represented in the work force, comprising about half of the economically active population. As of 1984, roughly 80 percent of women of working age (between eighteen and sixty) were employed. The state has encouraged women to seek work and pursue careers and has provided aid to working mothers in the form of day-care centers and generous maternity benefits (see The Family , this ch.). The state also has made a concerted effort to provide educational opportunities for women. The number of women having a university or technical school education has increased over the years. Of the students enrolled in universities and colleges in 1985, about 50 percent were women, and most of these were involved in direct study (as opposed to extension and evening study). This figure represented an increase from 25 percent in 1960 and 35 percent in 1970. Female enrollments in technical schools also rose. In 1960 women accounted for 29 percent of the student body, by 1970 their proportion had grown to 49 percent, and in 1985 they represented about 73 percent of all enrollees. Special courses were designed for women who already held jobs but wished to increase their level of skills, and state enterprises offered programs that provided women leave time and pay up to 80 percent of their wages so they might pursue further education. In the mid-1980s, women were less well represented in positions of political power. In 1984 about one-third of the deputies to the People's Chamber were women. However, in December 1984, only 19 of the 153 SED Central Committee members were women. In early 1987, there were only two women among the twenty-seven full and candidate members of the Politburo.

The Democratic Women's League of Germany (Demokratischer Frauenbund Deutschlands--DFD) is the official mass organization for women. Established in 1947, it originally spearheaded the campaign for equal rights for women. The SED has used the DFD to politicize women, to make them aware of their rights and responsibilities in the construction of a socialist society, and to encourage them to participate in the productive life of the country. The DFD had 1.5 million members as of 1985 and operated through 17,904 local organizations. Membership was ostensibly open to all women regardless of their social background or political orientation. As with other mass organizations, however, leadership positions were filled by SED loyalists, and DFD activities fell under the strict control and supervision of the party. The DFD had thirty-four seats in the People's Chamber.

After the late 1960s and 1970s, the influence of the DFD among women declined. As women became integrated into the work force, they began participating in the trade unions instead of the DFD. In this sense the DFD succeeded in its original goals and hence became outmoded. Consequently the thrust of the organization changed by the 1980s, and its main concern became the part-time woman worker and the nonworking woman. Critics contend that the shift in goal orientation turned the DFD into a social organization for housewives.

Data as of July 1987