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Berlin: The Emancipated City and its Women’s Day Holiday

In Germany, Berlin is the only federal state that made International Women’s Day an official holiday. Berlin’s first female Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey will spend the day with a female ‘U-Bahn’ train driver and check the share of women in the police.

Berlin, March 6th, 2020. Update: March 5th, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — Celebrating the feminist movement’s achievements of the past century is one of the purposes of International Women’s Day on March 8th, which was turned into an official holiday in the city state of Berlin in 2019. But the fight for equality is not over. Making people aware of this fact is the second purpose of the holiday.

Idea Dates Back to 1910

It was Clara Zetkin, a German socialist and feminist, who spoke about the idea of establishing an International Women’s Day at the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference which took place in Copenhagen in the summer of 1910. The original idea came from the United States of America though, where socialist women had already decided to have such a day.

Red City Hall has a new sign that shows the new Governing Mayor is a woman. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Back then, it was mainly about women’s suffrage. Today, it depends. In Germany, feminists, both female and male ones, still criticize the fact that, in many companies, women earn less than men for the same work. And the critics do have a point.

Solidarity with Women

Also the double or even triple burden many women carry continues to be a relevant subject. Men work. Then they come home and watch soccer matches. Many women, on the other hand, come home from work in order to keep on working. They deal with the kids and the household before they watch Netflix for five minutes while falling asleep after a tiring day, a far busier one than their husbands had.

Franziska Giffey was elected Governing Mayor of Berlin on December 21st, 2021. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

While these may be the main issues in Europe, International Women’s Day is also about solidarity with women in other parts of the world, where they have far less rights, if any, or where the injustice is far more grave. Violence against women, for instance in parts of Africa, where female genital mutilation is just one of many severe problems, is another aspect.

Holidays Galore

As a matter of fact, adopting this new holiday was not entirely about women or the injustice they are facing, but also about having a new holiday. Germany’s other federal states, especially in the more religious south of the country, have far more holidays. Bavaria has 13 while Berlin had 9 before it got the new one.

The city state of Berlin made International Women’s Day a holiday. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Some provinces in northern Germany had just adopted a holiday dedicated to Martin Luther and the Reformation. The Lutheran Church in Berlin wanted the same for their city. There were Berlin politicians who demanded an additional holiday, on top of November 9th, which would have commemorated the fall of the Berlin Wall. Others would have chosen May 8th, because of the end of fascism in Europe in 1945. Now it is International Women’s Day after all.

Dark Tunnels

Franziska Giffey is the first female Governing Mayor of Berlin who was elected. Louise Schröder held the job provisionally from 1947 to 1948, without being elected. For Mrs. Giffey, a new sign was installed next to the main entrance of Red City Hall. It says ‘Die Regierende Bürgermeisterin von Berlin‘. In German, the female form of the word ‘Mayor’ has two additional letters, the ‘i’ and the ‘n’ at the end. They probably put the male version in storage, in case it is needed again at some point.

Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey will spend International Women’s Day in the city. To be precise: She will be down there in Berlin’s dark ‘U-Bahn’ tunnels with train driver Claudia O’Sullivan and Eva Kreienkamp, the CEO of the state-owned company. Afterwards, she intends to join a patrol that includes police officers and security guards employed by Berlin’s main public transport provider BVG. According to Red City Hall, the focus of Mrs. Giffey’s activities on the holiday on Tuesday is on professions dominated by men.

Equal Care

Of course, a federal state does not need an official holiday in order to mark International Women’s Day. In Hamburg, Equality Senator Katharina Fegebank is scheduled to discuss “equal care and the challenges for sustainable feminism” with guests. She will also talk to Tatyana Martynova, a teacher from Odessa, via video chat. This will be about the situation of women in Ukraine during Russia’s war of aggression.

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