January 31, 2013

Outraged German women speak out against sexism

The Associated Press

BERLIN - Online outrage over a German politician's alleged sexist remarks has led to a surge in women seeking advice about sexual harassment in the workplace, the head of the country's official anti-discrimination body says.

Stern magazine journalist Laura Himmelreich claims that 67-year-old Rainer Bruederle, a leading member of the governing Free Democratic Party, told her last year that she "could also fill out a dirndl" -- the low-cut dress often worn by waitresses at Bavarian beer fests.

The allegations have sparked heated debates on German TV and in newspapers. But it was a weeklong flurry of tweets with the label "Aufschrei" -- German for outcry -- that seems to have emboldened women to speak out about everyday sexism in the country, said Christine Lueders, chief of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.

"We saw a sharp rise in calls that are clearly linked to the debate over this case," Lueders told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Twitter has given ordinary women the opportunity to speak openly about the issue."

Bruederle hasn't commented on the allegations. But party officials question the timing of Himmelreich's claims, made in an article days after Bruederle became the FDP's top candidate in upcoming national elections.

Lueders declined to discuss the case directly, but said the debate surrounding it showed that German society has yet to catch up with legislation that came into force in 2006 outlawing workplace discrimination based on sex, age, disability or race. Previous anti-discrimination rules applied largely to the state, but not private companies.


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