GHDI logo

Die Neue Zeitung on the Public Discourse over the Problematic Issue of Equal Rights (January 13, 1949)

When the Basic Law was worked out in West Germany in 1949, gender equality was one of the contested issues. To be sure, the parties agreed that the law had to be adjusted to reflect the changed social reality, and it was clear that the inferior legal status of women in the Civil Code [Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch or BGB] had to be abolished. But the opponents of an immediate implementation of legal equality argued on a practical level: simply abolishing the relevant sections of the BGB without replacing them was just as impossible as hastily revising them. Moreover, they argued that special protections deriving from the Civil Code had to be preserved.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 2

Of the problems that must be solved by the Parliamentary Council, there is probably hardly a question that is publicly debated with as much passion as that of the equality of women. The parliamentarians in Bonn are being inundated with letters in which protests of varying degrees of vehemence are being voiced about the fact that, in the first reading of the new Basic Law in the main session, the draft by Dr. Elisabeth Selbert (SPD) – which reads: “Men and women have equal rights!” – was rejected.

Instead, the [Council’s] main committee incorporated the following stipulation into the section on basic rights: “Men and women have the same civic rights and responsibilities. No one may be discriminated against or given preferential treatment . . . because of gender.” This formulation accords with the result at which the policy committee had arrived.

The lawyers are shaking their heads
There is unanimous agreement among all the parties of the Parliamentary Council that the provisions especially of the Civil Code that contravene the equality of women must be eliminated. It is known in all circles that women, to a far greater extent than before, have become active collaborators with men, and in many cases lead their lives completely independently and accomplish tasks that were carried out exclusively by men in our fathers’ time.

For that reason, Bonn understands full well that women’s organizations are always eager to adopt the motion of Dr. Selbert. For example, the women’s organizations of Hamburg, united in the Frauenring Hamburg e.V., decided the following in a meeting of their full board on January 8: “Men and women are equal. Contrary laws in the Civil Code are abrogated, changes to the Civil Code must be made by 1950.” The female representatives of the Hessian state assembly [Landtag] demanded in a joint motion: “Men and women are equal. . . all social regulations that conflict with the equality of women (Civil Code) are repealed.”

The lawyers in the Parliamentary Council are shaking their heads over these demands. They begin by pointing out that a complete vacuum would emerge in the moment that one simply abolished those provisions of the Civil Code that pertain to the status of women, and that from that vacuum legal chaos would arise. First and foremost, those provisions that were made to protect women would also be abrogated. Moreover, the lawyers are convinced that the open questions require thorough examination, and they regard it as practically impossible to replace the multitude of stipulations pertaining to the status of women with others in the space of a few weeks. They characterize the demand that the future legislature should implement the corresponding changes to the Civil Code by the year 1950 as unfeasible by pointing out that the federal organs, which could be established in May of that year, at the earliest, will find themselves confronted by an excessive number of legislative tasks, especially in the area of finance and economics. Thus, the editorial committee has suggested that the transitional regulations should include an article that stipulates that the provisions of the civil law on the status of women remain in force until they are adjusted to the provisions of the Basic Law concerning equality, though not later than March 31, 1953.

first page < previous   |   next > last page