Women in the New Germany: The East-West Divide
Women in East and West Germany entered the post-war period with the same history and similar opportunities; by the time German unification brought the post-war period to a close, their worlds had become distinctive and different (Weidenfeld and Zimmermann, 1989). In 1950, just over one in three women East or West of the German-German border were in employment. Women, then, were very much the second gender: the majority had obtained only basic education and had not completed vocational or professional qualifications. Although National Socialism had imposed a cult of motherhood and dismantled most of the political and social rights women had begun to accumulate during the Weimar years, the war years and the dislocations of the immediate post-war period forced women to cope without men and husbands, manage their own and their family’s affairs, work in industry, construction or agriculture (Mommsen, 1986; Edwards, 1985). Forced by circumstance, women added employment to their traditional family roles. In the West, women experienced opportunities and limitations in choosing between employment and family roles or combining the two; in the East, women’s life was prescribed as encompassing both. For women, unification brought two contrasting societies together.
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