Women's responsibility in today's world

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Women's responsibility in today's world  (1951) 
by Johanne Lohmann
Address delivered at a meeting of YWCA in Wilmington/Delaware

November 1951

Women's responsibility in today's world[edit]

In 1945 the drafters of United Nation's Charter brought women within the purview of the Charter, which meant that women all over the world have to face a new situation.

In our new Constitution in Western Germany it is said that men and women shall have equal rights. Consequently about 300 paragraphs of our German civil code have to be changed until 1953, because they are not in accordance with this new status of women. Women's organizations, men and women with legal training all over the country are working at this task, which involves such rights as, who shall determine the place, where the family lives, husband or wife, if their professional work should take them to different places? Should women loose their family name through marriage? Who determines the education of the children, and does the husband have the right to dispose of his wife's property? In our old civil code he is given this right exclusively unless a special agreement has been made. He may prevent his wife from working professionnaly, if he thinks that by working she neglects the care of the family. Government departments, political parties, educational institutions open their doors to women in Germany, and you find that they are beginning to take their place in higher positions in these institutions again, as they had done after the first World War. In our parliament in Bonn 8 % of its members are women. With the exception of Danmark and Finnland no other country in Europe has such a high percentage of women in parliament. In many countries they shy from going into politics, but those women who have taken this step in our country feel that they should have an influence where laws are made, which will determine everybody's lives. In my home city of Bremen 11 out of 100 representatives in our parliament are women, we have three female judges, and we feel very fortunate to have a woman in our Senate in charge of Youth and Welfare Departments. During the five years since she took over, she has maintained the principle that practical results are more important than too much bureaucracy, and she has opened up more children's homes, dormitories for boys and girls in professional training and other helpful institutions than any of her predecessors have been able to found in such a short time.

Women in our country realize that it is necessary to have women with good and thorough training in public offices, and that it is not their task to fight men, as it sometimes happened in old suffrage days, but to cooperate with them, and to supplement their efforts for the well-being of their community, their country and - ultimately of the world.

In many instances women in government positions or in parliament have joined in their efforts on common issues, and in thus cooperating have been able to overcome political or denominational differences, when working together for a cause, which concerned the welfare of all.

The same thing can be said about the attempt of bringing German and American men and women together in German American Clubs or Societies after the war. In the whole, women have been more successful in these endeavours, because they often started practical projects together like polio drives, thrift shops, money raising campaigns for scholarships etc. Doing practical work together more than anything else has been a help in wiping out misunderstandings or prejudices in many instances.

As a visitor from Germany I know, it will never be possible to tell our American friends that their readiness to help us after the war has saved us from despair. You may often have heard this, and yet you will never be able to realize how much not only the actual help, the food, clothing and the many wonderful things you have sent over have meant to those, who had lost everything in one of the worst wars in history. You cannot realize the spiritual relief, which a friendly letter or a kind remembrance, the fact that old friends had not forgotten us through all those dark years, and the fact that so many people, even if they had never seen our country, felt compelled to help us get our daily bread, have meant at a time, when we had to realize that our life was too short to even try to undo the wrong, which in our name has been done in this world by a group of people, who had the power to say that they represented the ideas and the ideals of all Germany.

I should like to talk a long time about your generous relief act ions, which brought help and encouragement to nearly every family in Europe. Of the generous way, in which you put the great experience you had, in building up and guarding the freedom of your democracy at the disposal of the German people for their attempt to build up a new democratic state. Germany after the war has often appeared to me like a person, who has just recovered from a nervous breakdown. You know, that often what seems a small task and normal speed to the healthy, is a great effort to such a recuperant. If he has enough time to rest up in peace, he will win his old self-reliance back, and be able to take up his place in life again. If he is not given this time to recover, his efforts to keep pace are a double taxation of his strength, and he will either give up or accept mechanically what is expected of him. If you remember, how long it took the Southern States in your country to overcome their defeat in the civil war, which changed and revolutionized the existence of every Southerner, you will know that it is sad that Germany did not have time to adjust itself to its new existence in peace, but has to do this adjustment in a race with time. Before it could develop into a new being and digest its problems, it is drawn into the conflict between West and East, which is tearing the world apart. What chances has a democracy to develop under such circumstances?

You have heard from Frau Walther, how women in Germany try to face the situation, and to do their part in rebuilding our country. There are many achievements, which make us hopeful. Our cities have accomplished large building programs, industry has picked up and is working at full speed in many places. Some of our refugees have found a successful start in their new lives, people dare talk more freely in our Western Zone, and many of them have developed an attitude of responsible and self-reliant citizens. And yet.... Coming from a continent, where with every step you still stumble over traces of the past war, it is depressing to see the world getting ready to rearm again at a scale, which has never been heard of in the past. Those countries which have not been turned into war areas have possibly been ready earlier to realize the necessity of being strong in order to protect the Western world against attacks on its freedom - those, who had the war over and in their countries have been more reluctant to accept this idea.

Our country which has the frontier line between the Eastern and Western world in its own territory, where we know that an open conflict will mean that Germans have to fight against their German brothers is still divided in its opinion. On one hand we know from experience, what it means to have no protection for our population. No one was there to save the lives of the great number of Germans who died on their flight from Eastern territories, in Poland, Czechoslowakia, Russia. We had no power to insist on the return of our war prisoners, nor to protect our property. We can do little for our brothers in the East, who live under great pressure, we can only let them know that we feel united with them in Faith, and that we pray for them, but maybe prayers alone are not strong enough to fight the evil spirits, which have broken loose. But money and arms alone are not strong enough either to break the powers of evil. They are necessary, when we deal with those, who understand nothing but the language of power and strength. And yet.. Money and arms must never become so strong that they invite abuse of the power, which they create, the way it happened in our country in the hands of Hitler. The lesson which we have learned in going through the past years is this: that the power, which arms and a strong economy are creating, will not help us, if they are not paired with the wisdom, which only Faith and the courage, which grows out of this faith, can give us. It is this faith, which we need, in order to overcome fear in our life. When you have lost your possessions, you realize that maybe formerly you have made them too important in your life, and that the fear of loosing them has made you a coward.

We are living in a world, which crucified Jesus, whom it loved, which murdered Mahatma Gandhi, who was adored by his people, which is afraid to work for peace because this word has been made the catchword of the enemies of our Western world.

And yet --even if we realize that we have to be strong, and to wear weapons in order to safeguard this peace, we must never forget, that not the power, which protects it, but peace itself is our ultimate goal.

I believe that this is one of the most important tasks of women in this world, to keep awake, and to remain aware of this fact. We can do this by helping those, who live in this world, to love and understand each other- by tolerance. By having the courage to realize that none of our possessions nor anything that was invented to make life agreeable, must ever become so important, that it will dominate us. We have proved to the world, that with faith, endurance and patience it is possible to reach any goal, for these qualities more than anything else have gradually won women the chance to take their place in a world, which for a long time seemed man's domain.

If women all over the world are united in this faith, if they remember that peace will come only to those, who put all their efforts, their intelligence and their experience at the service of this goal, who seek it with a pure heart, and who know that the power of love is stronger than the power of hatred; if we have the strength to sincerely believe that in the end we will reach this goal, there still is hope that we can make this world a place in which our children can grow up happily and without fear.

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