As German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves office after nearly 16 years as the country’s top executive, feminists are assessing her impact on gender equality. Although Merkel’s very presence at the top of Germany’s government is seen as a victory for many feminists, others say that the German chancellor has missed many opportunities to enact gender equality reforms.
While opinions on Merkel differ, few can argue that she is not an effective leader. In her 16 years of service, Merkel has defended her country’s interests against some of the most powerful leaders in the world, including Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Regularly thought of as a bastion for liberal ideas and the de facto leader of the European Union, Forbes has named Merkel as the Most Powerful Woman for the past ten years in a row.
Merkel’s commitment to her duty and beliefs has even made her an icon and role model for young girls, who see her ascension to Germany’s highest leadership position as the ultimate example of shattering the glass ceiling. Merkel has further made her presence felt on the world stage. The 67-year-old former physicist often visits developing countries to tout equal access to education and job opportunities as the key to gender rights.
Despite Merkel’s success, German feminists say that she could have done more as chancellor to achieve greater gender equality. Alice Schwarzer, who has led Germany’s feminist movement for the past several decades, believes that Merkel has done very little to make women equal in her 16 years as head of government.
Schwarzer and others who view Merkel’s tenure as a missed opportunity for gender equality point to several alarming statistics suggesting that Merkel might have even been detrimental to the cause of equality. Principally, the number of female representatives in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has decreased from 23 percent to 19.9 percent during Merkel’s term. Even more shocking is data from Germany’s parliament. In 2020, only 31.4 percent of representatives in the Bundestag were women. This compares to 49.6 percent in Sweden’s parliament and 43.3 percent in Belgium’s parliament.
Although many Germans concede that Merkel could have done more to create greater gender equality in Germany, they also feel that her tenure as head of government has normalized the idea of a woman leading a major country. For German citizens who have grown up with Merkel as the sole head of government, her example puts to rest the idea that gender is a prerequisite for leadership.