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Sexism and Violence Against Women
Just like discrimination on the basis of race, origin, descent, and religious beliefs is prohibited by article 3 of the German Constitution, the same paragraph outlaws discrimination against anyone on account of their gender. There were quite a few legal obstacles on the way to gender equality in Germany: For example, it took another nine years after the draft of the constitution until Germany’s civil code was adjusted. Before that, married women (and not the husband) could dispose of their own income. Since 1977 married women are legally allowed to accept a job even if their husband doesn’t agree with their employment.
Domestic violence, spousal rape, and forced marriages are criminalized and carry severe punishments. Between 7,000 and 8,000 cases of serious sexual coercion are reported every year. According to a survey of the European Union Agency of Fundamental Rights, 35% of all German women older than 18 years of age have experienced legally relevant forms of sexual assault (e.g. groping, harassment, stalking, abuse, rape).
However, the likelihood of assault by an unknown perpetrator is far lower than intimate violence by someone the woman interacts with in a social setting or has/had a sexual or romantic relationship with. Random attacks and rapes unfortunately do happen, though, and German authorities often repeat the usual safety tips for women listed below, even if they put the responsibility for preventing a crime on the potential victim, i.e.
- Avoid neighborhoods which you don’t know or which make you feel uncomfortable.
- Take one or two female friends with you when you go out at night.
- Watch your drinks.
- Return home in a taxi by an accredited taxi company.
- Ask them if they can provide another woman as the taxi driver.
Who to Turn to
Most German cities also offer emergency hotlines for the victims of sexual harassment or assault, which take incidents of intimate partner violence or domestic violence very seriously. You can find a German-only search engine for such local support groups on the website of Frauen gegen Gewalt e.V.. (The awareness of men as victims of domestic violence, on the other hand, is rather low. There are very few institutions for men in domestic crisis situations in Germany.) If you should ever become the victim of such a crime and decide to report it to the German police (call 110), ask your embassy for help, too. The diplomatic staff can provide you with an interpreter and aid you to get medical and legal assistance.
In general, Germany is a fairly safe country for women, though. Today, sexual discrimination and gender inequalities are present in subtle, far less tangible forms. For example, traditional gender roles and conceptions of motherhood may be responsible for the lack of daycare facilities for working mothers, there is a noticeable pay gap in the workplace, and objections to inappropriate language or sexist remarks that can create a hostile climate in social situations are often dismissed as jokes. What may be a bit of off-color fun for one woman may be an uncomfortable violation of personal boundaries for another one, and it is not easy to deal with such dilemmas.
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