Declaration of Potsdam

german version

Potsdam in January

Potsdamer Kongress is sponsored by:
The Society for Equal Opportunity e. V.



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Background: The Origin of the Declaration of Potsdam

The SOCIETY FOR EQUAL OPPORTUNITY, e.V., is a non-profit organisation whose members represent the fields of politics, science and journalism. This organisation held a national conference on education and gender policy, entitled "Equal Opportunity: Guiding Principle for Politics and Society in the 21st Century", in Potsdam from November 11-13, 1999. Some 200 experts from all over Germany attended the conference. The following declaration is the result of that conference. This paper addresses, above all, policy makers in the fields of education and research, culture and media, as well as those responsible for women's issues and equal rights, family and social welfare policy.


The Authors

The Declaration of Potsdam was drafted by a preparatory subcommittee of the conference 'Equal Opportunity: Guiding Principle for Politics and Society in the 21st Century', whereby many ideas and recommendations from experts in education and women's issues were included. Among those were: Tilo Braune, Christa Cremer-Renz, Peter Döge, Christoph Ehmann, Klaus Faber, Hannelore Faulstich-Wieland, Peter Faulstich, Monika Ganseforth, Maria-Eleonora Karsten, Holger H. Lührig, Marion Lührig, Sigrid Metz-Göckel, Barbara Stiegler, Barbara Stolterfoth, Rolf Wernstedt, Dieter Wunder.

For their contributions and valuable suggestions we thank all the participants of the conference, especially Christine Färber, Elke Plöger, Anne Ratzki, Jürgen Theis and Gabriele Winker for their written recommendations concerning the draft of the manifesto. We also thank the conference speakers, whose presentations will be published as part of the conference documentation in the spring of 2000.

Responsible for editing were Holger H. Lührig, Marion Lührig and Dieter Wunder.


Equal Opportunity: Guiding Principle for Politics and Society in the 21st Century

Now, at the beginning of the new century-after 50 years of governance under West Germany's post-war constitution (Grundgesetz) and ten years of German unification - it is time to take a first assessment: To what extent has our goal of providing equal opportunity for the people of Germany been actualised? How effective in practice is the "equality clause" in Article 3 of the constitution, or the principle of the social welfare state according to Article 20, upon which we base our claims to equal opportunity?

A comparison between our rights as laid out in the constitution and those rights as actually put into practice turns out to reveal discrepancies. It is true that since the 60's--or again since 1999-equal opportunity has been declared a guiding principle in politics. Constitutional court decisions have further promoted gender equality and, for example, free access to universities. But despite considerable efforts, our rights to equal opportunity in Germany have, in many cases, yet to be asserted.

At the same time, new inroads for equal opportunity as well as threats to it are presented by the profound changes in all those areas of our lives influenced particularly by the European harmonization process, accelerating globalisation, and the revolution in new information and communication technologies. As we face the consequences, in part already predictable and also undesirable, we must answer the question as to how in the future we will guarantee equal opportunity to participation in the world of economics and employment, in cultural life and democracy.

The Declaration of Potsdam, issued by the SOCIETY FOR EQUAL OPPORTUNITY, is intended to encourage public debate on aims and means towards more equal opportunity.


Equal Opportunity as a Political Challenge

It will be a priority for German and European politics to link innovation with social justice, central concepts for the coming modernisation of the state and society. Equal opportunity is still one of the most important manifestations of social justice and an impulse for social innovations.

In modern democratic societies it is no longer the privileges conferred by birth that legitimise access to employment and income, influence and social recognition, but rather academic degrees. Equal opportunity in access to education, as well as equal opportunity throughout scholastic careers, thus serve as a measure of social justice within a democratic society. A policy of equal opportunity systematically seeks to dismantle any disadvantage that individuals experience on the basis of gender, social, cultural and regional origin or physical handicap. Currently, gender mainstreaming is considered to be the most important political approach for overcoming inequality of the sexes.

Equal opportunity presupposes that individual differences, various backgrounds, lifestyles, as well as abilities, will be respected, and it promotes the development of individual life perspectives. The dominance of male or Euro-centric perspectives in education, science, culture and the media must be dismantled. Nor can any education of a merely economic orientation be considered a comprehensive one.

Education policy has a key role to play in the struggle to ensure equal opportunity. Policy makers in sectors such as employment, family, domestic affairs and social welfare, must play a supportive role, aside from their responsibility to work towards more equal opportunity within their own areas.

A broader debate on the subject of equal opportunity will revive scholarly and intellectual discourse in our society and at the same time stimulate social and technological processes of change.


In Some Areas We Have Only Just Begun to Achieve Equal Opportunity

Progress reports on the educational system indicate that there have been some irrefutable successes in eliminating inequities. But gender or social class, culture, origin, or physical handicap still gives rise to discrimination. Where these factors intersect, discrimination is compounded, as has been proven in the case of children of most immigrants (migrant workers, evacuees, refugees), as well as for children from other socially disadvantaged groups. The notion of lifelong learning--from pre-school to scholastic and on-the-job learning all the way to diverse types of continuing education for adults and senior citizens-must be a feature of modern societies, but in Germany it has not received the attention it deserves.

A detailed analysis reveals conflicting tendencies:

  1. The expansion of the educational system since the 60's has led to a broadening of educational opportunities. In the Federal Republic of Germany increasing numbers of young people from all social groups attend institutions of higher education. Young women have actually pulled ahead of men in attaining educational degrees from Realschule, Gymnasium, and comparable school-leaving certificates.[1]
  2. Social inequality within the education system persists. The gap between the "very top" and the "very bottom" remains. Children from weak social groups, above all young immigrants, are underrepresented in the Gymnasien and universities. Boys, more noticeably in East Germany, comprise a large part of those pupils with leaving certificates from Hauptschule, those with comparable certificates, and those without any school-leaving certificates. Children from lower class immigrant families suffer additional disadvantage, because multiple cultural identities are often regarded as more a problem than an asset. They constitute a disproportionately large number of pupils who attend schools for special education. These problems are compounded among girls from such socially disadvantaged groups.

    There is a serious undersupply of all-day schooling. Yet supplemental afternoon schooling would promote equal opportunity in the education of children and adolescents and, in the face of changing family structures, also gain pedagogical importance for its compensatory effect.

  3. Despite all progress towards equality of the sexes, curricular content that is structured according hierarchical gender patterns remains yet to be eliminated. The distribution of teachers in the various fields of education also follows gender-hierarchical patterns. While women predominate in kindergartens and elementary schools, men do so in technical/scientific subjects, and often at the Gymnasium and vocational schools, especially in administrative positions.

    The proportion of female instructors and researchers at universities is still amazingly low due to prevailing selection procedures. Only nine percent of all German university professors are women. In comparison to international statistics this is a strikingly low proportion. By contrast, currently more than 50 percent of entering students are women.

  4. Vocational education affords fewer opportunities in life than academic education does. That vocational school graduates are at a disadvantage is evident in their professional careers as well as the degree of their representation at universities or in continuing education programs. The differences they experience in access to careers, with respect to school type, learning structure, learning opportunities, as well as financing, result in specific disadvantages, generally because of gender and particularly among the handicapped, immigrants and socially disadvantaged youth.

    Young men of weak social backgrounds are found particularly often in temporary unemployment programs without any future prospects. Immigrants often have insufficient knowledge of the German language. East German youth are still adversely affected by weak economic structures.

    Women are often found in a few lower paid, less valued jobs. This is particularly the case for immigrant women from lower classes and other socially disadvantaged groups. Full-time training programs in vocational schools -almost exclusively for women-do provide a quality education, but they lack sufficient recognition, so that they have a greater tendency to lead to unemployment than other types of education do. In many states this type of education is not adequately included in the discussion on educational reforms.

    It is becoming more and more difficult for young people to get apprenticeships in economically weak areas. This is particularly true for young women who are increasingly referred to schools that continue their general education or to vocational schools that charge tuition.

  5. One inequality continues to characterise our entire working lives, which by definition includes any kind of paid as well as unpaid work: Women perform the bulk of the social and domestic work, which is vitally essential to society, but unpaid. We lack childcare at schools; such programs could perform qualified service and educational tasks while relieving many parents, particularly single mothers and fathers, of some of their burdens.

    Despite being better educated, women have fewer chances than men in the job market, particularly in important sectors, functions and positions, because of latent and manifest inequities to be found in vocational training as well as higher education.

  6. The largest sector of education, advanced vocational training is also marked by inequities. Whereas the proportions of male and female participation are fairly equal, men comprise the majority of participants within the more promising training programs. Because women are underrepresented in management level positions, men, as employees in those positions benefit disproportionately from corporate-sponsored educational programs.

    Academic achievement and professional status substantially determine who is to participate in continuing education programs: In general these programs are dominated by young Gymnasium or university graduates, and by public servants. Those who have earned only lower-level leaving certificates from Hauptschule or comparable certificates, or no certificates at all, are scarcely left any opportunities within a learning society. Thus, continuing education programs sharpen the selection process and reinforce the inequality between the sexes.

  7. In the transition from an industrial society to a learning society, new information and communication technologies have gained central importance. Access to the critical resources is inequitably distributed. The typical on-line user answers the following description: young, well educated and informed, employed and male. Children from lower classes do not have the opportunity to access the new media, and thus face the risk of being left by the wayside within the learning society. Women also face structural constraints in accessing the new media. They lack opportunities to acquaint themselves with new technologies. Moreover, they do not receive the appropriate offers within the internet. The organisation of net-based work is characterised by gender hierarchies. Topics and fields of work that society traditionally associates with women are still left out in the rain. Moreover, female systems specialists and software developers are noticeably absent from the job market.
  8. Serious economic differences between East and West Germany have created specific educational disadvantages in the new German states. Inadequate economic structures with limited prospects for development, a lack of vocational programs combining classroom instruction with on-the-job-training (duale Berufsausbildung), as well as a problematic job market, all make access to vocational training or jobs more difficult. Since 1990, company-financed research and development has been reduced to 20% of the original amount. The East German share in nationwide industrial research has decreased to a total of 2%. Also, the proportion of East Germans who are granted admission to institutions of higher education, especially the number of those enrolled is not on a par with West Germany.

    This examination indicates that despite all progress, there is still a long way to go towards more equal opportunity. With the economic and social changes brought on by the building and expansion of the European Union and especially in the face of worldwide globalisation, we are not only presented with opportunities, but also with risks which threaten to reinforce gender, social and cultural gaps in society. Therefore governmental regulation along with consistent implementation is needed to secure equal opportunity. To achieve a socially viable society we need a new philosophy of equal opportunity.

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    A New Philosophy

    The new discussion about equal opportunity links gender democracy, social justice and intercultural diversity. It focuses on education as the most important foundation for prosperity in modern societies. Our future security and development is now no longer linked to technical production systems and instruments, but rather depends on the level of knowledge we possess and our ability to communicate. Within a learning society it is crucial how, what, and when something is learned and who is to have access to that knowledge.

    Educational structures and the core curricula must provide for the participation of all people in the evolution of a learning society, such as:

    All people require these skills as an educational foundation to enable them to assume responsibility for their self-determination as individuals and as a society.

    A modern policy of equal opportunity must be oriented to a principle inherent in the process of democratisation: In all social areas the opportunities for citizens to participate and co-create must be expanded. This aim would be served by the following guidelines:

    Women and men should experience equitable living conditions and opportunities for participation in all realms of society. A democratic society may not continue to perpetuate in fact the traditional exclusion of women under the illusion of legal equality.

    Modern societies will only prosper and further develop into civil societies when all their members are able to secure a minimum standard of living with their own sources of income. The eradication of poverty is a task to be taken up by all political forces. Every individual must be given the opportunity to participate in material, social and cultural life, as well as gainful employment. The socio-political ideal of the male as the sole breadwinner belies social reality and is inconsistent with the goal of equal opportunity for all.

    Such an understanding of social justice people would enable us to act in solidarity for the people of our own country as well as those of other countries.

    Modern societies are heterogeneous; they should respect the differences among their individual members and groups as a universal human right and allow space for these differences in everyday life.

    The challenges of the coming decades--demographic changes, the revolution of our living and working conditions through information and communication technologies, the internationalisation of society, but also the development of new forms of political organisation--cannot only be met with short-term measures. Moreover, the needs of the present cannot be satisfied at the cost of future generations; what is needed is a policy of sustainable development, compatible with long-term ecological concerns, which strives for a society with a more just distribution of living and working opportunities. The field of education must make its contribution towards this aim.

    A modern policy of equal opportunity needs calculable, i.e., stable basic conditions extending beyond electoral periods. Young people, above all women, must be assured of being able to pursue a self-determined existence, of being able to rely on the sustained promotion of equal opportunity.


    Our Political Demands


    Sensitivity to gender issues must become an educational objective in general. The concept of gender mainstreaming is an effective strategy for rendering the gender-specific effects of political measures observable, and those who make the decisions must be made aware of it as necessary for the transformation of organizations and their policies at all social levels; the media will have an vital function to fulfil in this. Public administration must play a leading role and further promote the exchange of experiences among all social institutions and groups. Further, it is imperative to establish regional professional centres for gender-related issues where experts would be available as consultants and trainers.

    All political measures and concepts must be examined for their "gender sensitivity". Both the content of education, as well as the organization of courses, lectures, and seminars could be conceptualised according to the principle of gender mainstreaming.

    We are in need of systematic, publicly financed research into gender relations; the results must be published and implemented in practical policy. This would require the establishment of a German and a European institute for gender issues. We must promote the development of comparable indicators for the achievement of equal opportunity within the states of the European Community and its institutions, and provide for the regular preparation of further gender-specific data at a national and European level.


    There must be greater public awareness for cultural diversity and the problems it raises. The integration of immigrants, whereby integration is understood to mean equal participation in the opportunities life has to offer within a democratic society, must be a general principle of education policy. Thus the acquisition of the German language as well as the cultivation of one's native language is a must for everyone. Likewise, the origins of students from various countries, cultures and religions are to be taken into consideration, for example when designing curricula and educational institutions. Immigrant groups should be considered when selecting teaching staff members.


    All children of pre-school age must have the opportunity to develop their own abilities playfully, especially their language abilities. Systematic support of children at this age would require the introduction of compulsory education for children from the age of four. We must explore the possibilities for bilingualism, as well as the playful learning of the first foreign language. Childcare facilities and kindergartens must be equipped accordingly to provide these kinds of learning for all children. The training of these caregivers and teachers must be improved and should be closely linked to the training programs for teachers in elementary schools.

    It is a matter for federal legislation, but also social groups and institutions to ensure that private educational and child care institutions respect principles which the state regards as fundamental to a democratic community, as, for example, the principle of tolerance, or the principle of equality, also between men and women.


    The school must actively pursue its task of preparing students for a civil society. Equal opportunity must be built into school curricula and programs.

    The integrated education of all young people, including handicapped people, and respect for their differences must become the principle of any pedagogical work. High quality schools are those whose pupils attain high academic performance, regardless of their social and cultural origins.

    Students must have various options open to them during their entire scholastic careers. We therefore consider the Gesamtschule (comprehensive school) to be the appropriate continuation of the Grundschule (elementary school) and the heart of equal opportunity within the educational system. Schools in socially troubled areas require particularly good facilities; moreover, it would be important to integrate them in the local community work.

    All-day schools, or schools that offer morning and afternoon programs, must finally become a real option for all parents. New forms of learning (e.g. practical studies in sociology and ecology), the interaction with the local community, as well as a better career guidance and life planning will effect a change in the school overall.

    Multilingualism and the learning of English as the lingua franca (already at the elementary school age) would be an essential contribution to the realisation of cross-cultural diversity within school.


    The better and earlier general education schools prepare for vocational and professional training, the more successful it will be. Equivalence of vocational and academic study must be established through a system of a various measures. Universities could also be opened for working adults as well as for applicants who possess qualified vocational training without formal university admission.

    With equivalence between full-time schooling and "dual system" vocational training, as well as a closer connection between professional theory and practice, the disadvantages that exist today could be eliminated, especially for women. Skills in human relations acquired through experience in the service sector must be more highly valued as key qualifications of the future. This would be particularly important to achieve in the area of teacher training.

    Through counselling, practicum experience, and visitation opportunities, young people must be encouraged to enter careers with good prospects for the future. In particular women's access to technical occupations, including information technology, needs to be improved, as does men's access to social service and care-giving occupations.


    Financial assistance must be reorganized and improved so that study at a university becomes an increasing possibility for members of disadvantaged groups. The total numbers of students with financial assistance as well as the proportion of university applicants from the former East Germany need to be increased. State regulation for university education must ensure that no tuition fees will be levied for the first chosen course of studies.

    The overly strict delimitation between universities and Fachhochschulen (technical colleges) must be gradually bridged through cooperative programs. Career advancement opportunities within public service must be offered at the same starting point for all holders of higher degrees.

    The study environment must accommodate handicapped students; foreign students must be offered special assistance. Personnel structures within universities and other research institutes are in need of reform with the aim of guaranteeing the independence of junior researchers, to improve the positions and working conditions for all groups working in research and academia, to increase the number of tenured positions and to raise the proportion of women at all levels of qualification. Elements of qualification that are not comparable internationally as, for example, the Habilitation (a post-doctorate degree) must be made irrelevant. We consider it necessary to establish a continuing federal/state program to support the introduction of assistant or junior professorships, thereby making a contribution particularly to gender equality.

    Opportunities for higher education in East Germany must be brought up to par with West Germany by expanding and strengthening the system of universities and research institutions in disadvantaged East German regions.

    The establishment of private universities and university financing including private endowments do not absolve the state of its overall responsibility to provide a balanced offering of university admissions for a growing number of young people nationwide. Privately sponsored universities must therefore be included in the regional and national admissions process; as a rule they must be open to those who have gained admission to institutions of higher education.

    The current international degrees such as the Bachelor's and Master's should not be permitted to lead towards a hierarchical organisation of universities or courses of study. Within the framework of accreditation procedures for courses of study with new degrees, any further separation between universities and Fachhochschulen (technical colleges) must be avoided.


    Innovative means of public financing must be explored for continuing education. The system of continuing education, supported by general federal guidelines, needs expansion, ensuring quality standards and cooperation among institutions belonging to training associations. Personnel capacities within the public continuing education should be boosted. The openness of preparatory and continuing training programs must be ensured through modular organization. Individual rights to advanced training programs must be guaranteed.

    Everyone has the right to continuing education. The necessary instruments such as educational leave and sabbaticals must be improved and guaranteed by law or by union contract. All employees must be given the opportunity to update and expand their qualifications and knowledge at regular intervals.


    All people, regardless of gender, social, cultural or national origin, or physical handicap, must be able to make use of modern information and communication technologies. A precondition is the dissemination of new media skills, i.e. the ability to navigate the possibilities offered by the Internet and to search, find and evaluate specific information.

    Training programs in information technology must be revamped. They should include ecological, economical and social elements and should be taught through new, cooperative and communicative forms of learning.

    Skills in information technology must be integrated in the training for especially those occupations in which women still predominate today.

    Internet providers must adequately consider girls and women as target groups. This would entail offers geared for the personal and professional benefit of women. National and local servers for women could be set up.

    Practica for girls to explore technical professions within the new economy should be regularly offered by public schools.

    Today, the right to education includes unrestricted access to communication networks. The state must see to it that there is an extensive Internet infrastructure which is generally accessible and free of charge.

    The running costs of Internet access for educational institutions and libraries must be publicly financed.

    All types of schools, beginning with the elementary school, must have not only Internet access, but also sufficient hardware and software available for use in every classroom. In the not so distant future, each pupil should have the opportunity to learn using his or her own notebook computer. The use of the new media in all subjects requires extensive reorientation of the preparatory and continuing training of teachers. Media competence has become a key qualification and therefore a central criterion for the employment of teachers and learners.

    Universities must provide students with general access to multi-media that meet minimum standards for content.

    Public institutions for continuing education must make comprehensive programs in information and communication technologies available to adults who wish to update their qualifications.

    Computer applications must be appropriate for existing working processes, in terms of their usability, quality, and efficiency.


    About the Declaration of Potsdam 1949-1969-1989-1999 . . .

    The standards by which we measure the securing of equal opportunity in Germany are tied to the fundamental rights as laid out in the constitution that took effect 1949 in West Germany, and with reunification in 1990, in all of Germany. The peaceful revolution of the East German citizens in 1989 and 1990 had set the stage for this process.

    In the public education system, the first twenty post-war years were predominantly marked by a restoration of the conditions of the Weimar Republic. Examples of this are represented by the reconstruction of the former education system with its three types of school: Volksschule, Realschule and Gymnasium, or the old Ordinarien university. Only a few individual states showed signs of reform as, for example, with a new elementary school for year levels 1 to 6 or 8, or with co-determination at the Freie University Berlin.

    By 1969 the educational reform movement of the sixties in Germany had received broad recognition. Comprehensive reform and the goal of equal opportunity formed the basis of federal and state (for the most part) educational policy as well. Even in the first half of the sixties, the proportions of each year's school leavers awarded university entrance qualification (Abitur) were gradually rising. Educational institutions were further developed. New models, such as the Fachhochschule (technical college) the Gesamtschule (comprehensive schools) or the Gesamthochschule (combination of university and technical college) set the course for reform efforts. At the national level, new federal laws, based on a constitutional amendment of 1969, created a framework of necessary provisions. Among those were the "Federal Study Assistance Act" (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz), the "University General Guidelines Act" (Hochschulrahmengesetz) or the "University Construction Promotion Act" (Hochschulbauförderungsgesetz).

    After 1969 decisive new regulation for real equality between men and women was passed. The first reform of marriage law of 1977 repealed the civil law under which women had the right to employment only as long as it would not interfere with their duties as wives and mothers. Since then both spouses are entitled to gainful employment according to § 1356 of the civil code.

    The protection of equal rights for women as well as an equitable share in qualified education for girls became important political aims in West Germany in the seventies. The European Court and the European Parliament gave impetus to the advancement of the politics of equal rights. With the elaboration of the equal rights article in the German constitution in 1994 the state is now obliged to promote equality of the sexes and to work towards the elimination of existing disadvantages.

    With the Amsterdam Treaty a new chapter on the struggle to achieve equal opportunity between men and women has been opened through the European Union. This contract obligates all European member states to pursue an active policy of equal rights following the principle of gender mainstreaming.

    Reform efforts in West Germany have not been completed successfully in all areas. Developments drifting off course as well as political and social resistance have caused important reform projects to fail. Considerable deficiencies in the realization of equal opportunity persist today. Gender and social background, for example, are still markers for discrimination within the education system.

    Yet the bottom line shows that there have been considerable successes as well. The expansion of the education system, the opening of university access, as well as structural reforms in schools and universities serve as examples.

    Since 1989, the year of "change", the aspiration of equal opportunity has taken on new, further significance in the context of the balance between the east and west German states. After ten years of the German unification there are still great differences between east and west in the fields of education and science. As of the present, the opportunities to support and renew educational and research institutions in East Germany as well as reform the education and research system in Germany as a whole have not been adequately taken.

    In the coming years those in politics will have to face, at all levels, the challenges outlined above, together with additional future challenges. The domain of politics will be measured against the extent of its successes in realizing more equal opportunity in Germany as well as opening up new perspectives for it within the European Union.

    [1] Beginning at age 6 and ending four years later, German children are enrolled in elementary school (Grundschule). In most states, pupils then transfer to one of three types of school: Gymnasium (for pupils who receive the highest grades), Realschule (for pupils who receive average grades) and Hauptschule (for the least qualified pupils). In addition some children attend Gesamtschule, a comprehensive school that enrols pupils of all abilities. Rigor and length of education differs among the three types of secondary schools. The German Gymnasium, which encompasses class 5 to 13, has traditionally been considered to be the most academic of the secondary schools. The Realschule, which goes only until class 10, also covers academic subjects, but remains at a lower academic level. The Hauptschule typically enrols students from class 5 through 9 and is considered as the least demanding of the secondary schools.

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