A young woman politician who attacked sexism in Germany’s governing Christian Democrat (CDU) party has won praise from many fellow politicians but some have also questioned her motives.
In an open letter Jenna Behrends, a newly elected CDU politician in Berlin, complained that sexism was rife in the party. She felt insulted when a senator called her a “sweet mouse”.
Minister for Families Manuela Schwesig said sexist jokes were “unacceptable”.A Green MP also backed Ms. Behrends.
Gesine Agena, the Greens’ spokesperson on women’s issues, said she had also heard “daft language” from male politicians. Sexism “is experienced by many women politicians”, she said – though the Greens, unlike the CDU, have a 50-50 quota rule for men and women on their party lists.
Ms. Behrends, a 26-year-old lawyer, said she had experienced “party-wide solidarity” since publishing her “Dear Party” letter on her blog (in German) on September 23.
However, she lashed out at the CDU’s Women’s Union for “shutting itself off” and addressing her complaint “internally, at senior level”. The union deals with women’s issues in the party.
According to Ms. Behrends, some of the CDU women members characterised her as “hungry for promotion” and “ambitious to get elected to chair the Women’s Union herself”.
The union’s leader, Sandra Cegla, was quoted as saying Ms. Behrends was intimate with Peter Tauber, the CDU’s Secretary General and a top aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Quoted by German news website Der Spiegel, Mr. Tauber said “I got acquainted with Jenna Behrends and we flirted, but quickly I realised that we would remain friends, no more than that”.
Several commentators say Ms. Behrends has revived a sexism debate triggered in 2013 by journalist Laura Himmelreich, who complained of harassment by a senior Free Democrat (FDP) politician at the time, Rainer Bruederle.
Ms. Behrends criticised a party which “enjoys malicious gossip over a few beers”. “Women willing to sleep their way to a top local position exist only in your dirty fantasies,” she added, in her open letter.