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Article Co-Authored by Sabine Lang: ‘The most powerful woman in the world’ is stepping down. What is Merkel’s legacy on gender equality?

November 22, 2021

“Angela Merkel’s tenure as German chancellor draws to a close this month after 16 years. The four-term chancellor leaves office having steered Germany through international and domestic crises. In so doing, she has earned the Forbes title of “most powerful woman in the world” every year for a decade.

“The rise of populism and nationalism in many advanced democracies — including the United States — cemented Merkel’s image as the “leader of the free world.” Her science-based leadership has been widely praised as exemplary in taming the coronavirus pandemic. At home, her legacy includes abolishing compulsory military service; phasing out nuclear energy; legalizing (with significant constraints) dual citizenship; adopting marriage equality; implementing a gender quota on corporate boards; and instituting a minimum wage.

“This legacy is all the more noteworthy given that many saw Merkel as an interim leader when, in 2005, she became the first woman, first East-German-socialized, and youngest chancellor in German history. While her powerful leadership in many domains is widely recognized, her record on gender-equality policy is mixed. Merkel has a complicated relationship with feminism. Where she has led on gender-equality policy, it has been mostly from behind.”