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German men asking courts for 'equal rights'

In a turnabout on the women's movement, a growing number of West German men are going to court, charging that females have more rights than males. And in some cases, the courts agree.

The Supreme Court recently ordered a divorced woman who works as a confidential secretary to continue to support her former husband until he gets his university degree.

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A man in Neuss is suing his wife for support for himself and their four children because she ran off with another man.

A Hamburg economist and his schoolteacher wife decided he would stay home with their infant while she returned to work. His employer granted him maternity leave. But so far, the state has refused to pay him the 750 marks ($ 436) it would have paid his wife had she taken the leave. He has appealed.

West Germany's basic law, approved in 1949, guarantees that "men and women shall have equal rights." Ever since, the legislatures and the courts have been fleshing out that constitutional imperative.

Even before the basic law took effect, many women had moved into positions formerly monopolized by men as a direct result of World War II casualties.

Since 1949 the constitutional wedge has opened most jobs to women, although they are still excluded from military service and piloting scheduled aircraft.

The legislature has also equalized divorce laws.

And last year, it added 16 weeks to the ordinary six-week postnatal maternity leave. Now the employer pays the mother's full salary during the first six weeks. For the remaining four months, the state pays the mother 750 marks ($436 ) per month and all of her compulsory insurance and pension premiums.

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Women now are fighting to improve their pension position. As things now stand, a husband keeps his full state pension if his spouse dies, but a widow gets only 60 percent of the basic benefit. Women are demanding at least 75 percent.

Meanwhile, the battle for equal rights for men goes on in the courtrooms.

A bachelor male nurse in Cologne demanded that his employer grant him one paid day off per month to clean his apartment, on the grounds that it grants women employees that benefit.

The constitutional court agreed with him and has instructed legislators either to amend the pertinent law to extend the monthly "housekeeping day" right to men, or to eliminate it for men and women.

In this election year, legislators obviously are not expected to eliminate it.


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