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Rethinking Germany’s social progressiveness.

February 2, 2010

My personal view of Germany as a socially progressive beacon in central Europe was rocked recently by an article in the NY Times, “The Female Factor – In Germany a tradition falls and women rise,” in which the reporter explores the links between women, tradition and the economy in modern day educational policies.

Germany’s half-day school system has survived 250 years of social upheavals (including feudalism, Hitler’s mother cult, the women’s movement and reunification), by and large thanks to traditional expectations of women that follow the maxim “Kinder, Kueche, Kirche” (children, kitchen, church).  Today, mothers who choose to enroll their children in afternoon classes and daycare in order to keep full-time hours at work can face harsh criticism from the neighborhood moms.

Government subsidies for afternoon teaching and care programs hopes to improve childhood education while so-called ‘parent money’ (high-paying paternity and maternity leave for couples who both take time off from their careers for newborn children) encourages both parents to juggle children and a career.  The article notes that women often have to decide between the two if they wish to advance in German society, leading to more than half of female university graduates sitting out of the workforce.  Even Chancellor Angela Merkel, arguable one of the most powerful women in Europe, has reached the heights she has without children.

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