International Women’s Day; a new holiday for Berlin

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In 2019, Berlin becomes the first federate state in Germany to celebrate the 8th of March as a holiday, meaning it will be a new work-free day in celebration of International Women’s Day. The debate came up because Berlin has the least holidays in all of Germany (nine holidays, whereas Bavaria for example has 13) and recently, the nordic federate states have declared the 31st of October (Reformation day) to be a public holiday. Berlin did not actually plan to initiate a new public holiday. With support from die Linken, SPD and the Green Party, the decision to make the 8th of March a public holiday was made in November 2018.

Other days as potential new holidays had also been debated. Berlin celebrates a bare minimum of religious holidays, so the Christian communities pleaded for following the example of the nordic states and also making the 31st of October a public holiday. In light of the younger history of Germany, some memorial days were also considered, such as the 9th of November to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 18th of March in remembrance of the March revolution 1848 or the 8th of May as Liberation Day. The Green Party, die Linke and CDU also proposed flexible holidays, such as granting everyone an individual day off as personal holiday, or a rotating holiday that would be different every year. «We don’t want routine in commemoration, we want conscious commemoration», said faction-leader of the CDU Burkard Dregger, who proposed a unique holiday ever year. On the 24th of January 2019, the Berlin House of Representatives voted with 87 to 60 for the new holiday, which would take place a few weeks later already.

As expected, the choice was disputed heavily. Although not only the subject and date itself were discussed but also whether or not Berlin could actually afford a new holiday. Contrary to other German federate states, Berlin could be off better in terms of finances. Bavaria for example provided 6,67 Billion Euro of the money selected to balance the federate states financially, more than half of the overall budget. In turn, Berlin received 4,4 Billion Euro. Additionally, „Women’s Day“ used to be a holiday in GDR, therefore the decision the reestablish the 8th of March as a public holiday was criticised heavily as „GDR-nostalgia“ by some. Alice Schwartzer once called it the „Socialist Mother’s Day“, years before it had even be considered to make it a public holiday.

Others welcomed this decision. Foreign minister Heiko Maas for example urges: «Without equality, there is no real democracy», and demands «half the power for half the population». In light of the developments in the last years, which call for equality of men and woman alike, Berlin is pointing the way, also for other states in Germany. Although the situation has bettered itself in recent years, with 55% women in the Berlin Senat and almost half of all professorships in Berlins’ universities belonging to women. Nonetheless, there were setbacks, for example in the 2016 elections for the House of Representatives. However, given the situation of women on a global scale, the decision to point out the history of women’s rights and the ongoing struggle of a whole gender for freedom and basic rights in so many countries with a public holiday is a well-founded and solitary decision that will have a positive effect on society.

In general, Berlin is not alone in its decision to make the 8th of March a public holiday either. For other countries, such as Cyprus, Georgia, Angola, North Korea, Ukraine and Cuba, among others, the „UN Day for women’s rights and world peace“, as it is also known, is a public holiday after it was founded by women’s rights activist Clara Zetkin in 1911. In Berlin, several events and demonstrations have been announced for the 8th of March, which were planned to celebrate and demonstrate for equality between men and women all over the world.

Lea Hüntemann

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