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Merkel calls for more women in the arts on day she announces exit from politics

The German Chancellor also welcomed debate on colonial-era art at a ceremony in the Humboldt Forum

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Culture Minister Monika Grütters at the ceremony in the Humboldt Forum © German Federal Government

Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, yesterday called for more opportunities for women in the arts and said she is curiously awaiting her government’s response to the “intensive” discussion about how to handle cultural property acquired in the colonial era.

On the day Merkel announced she would not stand for re-election, she attended a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of the federal Culture Ministry. The event took place at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, a major cultural complex still under construction and set to open next year in a reconstruction of the royal palace.

“Whoever cares about diversity cannot accept that women still earn considerably less than their male colleagues,” Merkel said, according to the text of her speech distributed to journalists. “Let’s ask ourselves—how many female conductors have we experienced? How many women rank among the top-selling painters? The answers are rather sobering. This means we need real equality of opportunity for men and women in arts and culture.”

A study published a year ago found that women are under-represented in decision-making positions in the German arts and media world and earn less than men for equal work. The study commissioned by the government and conducted by the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin found that though women represent about 48% of the cultural workforce in Germany, they hold only 21% of the top management positions at media companies and 16 percent of the decision-making positions at major culture departments.

The chancellor said that one way to improve the standing of women in the arts is to ensure balanced award-giving juries and grant bodies. She said the federal film grant-making authority has set a good example in this direction.

After a regional election defeat for her party, Merkel announced yesterday that she will not stand again for the leadership of the Christian Democratic Union at the December party congress and that she will not serve as chancellor beyond her current term, which ends in 2021. Strains within her coalition suggest she may be ousted before that.

In her evening speech, Merkel said she is looking forward to proposals by the Culture Ministry and the Foreign Ministry on handling artefacts acquired in the colonial era that are now in public collections. “I see dealing with objects with a colonial background as one of the most complicated issues,” she said.