SIDNEY — Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann participated in a cultural political exchange with Germany, Nov. 11 to Nov. 15.
Ehemann was one of five Ohio women in local politics who traveled to Berlin for four days of workshops and discussions about motivating other women to enter the political arena. The exchange was organized by Shannon Jones, a Warren County commissioner, and Helga Lukoschat, chairperson of the board of EAF Berlin, a think tank and consulting firm.
Also participating from the U.S. were Debbie Lieberman, a Montgomery County commissioner, Vicki Giambrone a former mayor of Beavercreek now working for CBD Advisors, and Cynthia Hess, associate director of research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
The exchange will continue in April when a delegation of German women visits Columbus to continue the discussion.
“I actually met Helga at a dinner when she was in the states with a German delegation,” Jones said by phone, Wednesday, Nov. 21. “She approached me early this year.” Lukoschat wanted to know if Jones would be interested in working on a cultural exchange.
The Americans’ trip to Germany and the Germans’ upcoming trip to the U.S. have been funded by Lukoschat’s organization, EAF Berlin.
Jones asked Ehemann to particpate because, “I wanted (the U.S. group) to be reflective of various areas of the state,” she said. “Julie is from a more rural county with a lot of manufacturing. I didn’t know her, but her reputation preceded her as someone being thoughtful.” It also meant a lot to Jones that Ehemann is the incoming president of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
“We had workshops about leadership — understanding what motivates you so you can work on motivating others,” Ehemann told the Sidney Daily News when she had returned. According to Jones, the EAF is interested in particularly cultivating leadership of young women in politics.
A hightlight of the trip was attending a speech by German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel at a celebration marking the 100th anniversary of women’s gaining the right to vote in Germany.
“She spoke about 100 years of suffrage. (She said it was) a human right in a fair and just society. She said women can do anything, and this is more than a statement. This is a demand,” Ehemann said.
Merkel also said childcare should be a legal right and she talked about gender balance.
“If we want to grow our workforce, we need quality childcare for everyone,” Ehemann quoted Merkel.
About 200 people were in the chancellor’s audience.
“We had to show our passports, and we had invitations to be there, but security was not as tight as it is in the U.S.,” Ehmann said.
The group also met with German State Minister Michelle Muntefering.
“She was so interested in what women’s roles were, how we felt about expanding women’s roles. She said she sees the divide in the United States. How can women fix that divide? Local women can work together to build those bridges,” Ehemann said.
The workshops, coordinated by Lukoschat, included a session with winners of the Helene Weber Prize, an award for outstanding, local, female polititicians in Germany. During that session, the Germans and Americans discussed the characteristics and challenges of their respective political systems and best practices for encouraging women to engage in politics.
Another workshop focused on migration, integration and dealing with diversity.
“EAF was really strategic,” Jones said. “They gave us the opportunity to talk with women at all levels of government, local, state and federal, and across various political parties represented in Germany. They were thoughtful about people we would talk with.”
The women discovered that problems women face in Germany are not that different from problems faced by women here.
“One of the take-aways for women of the U.S. was that even though we’re separated by so many miles and different politics, the issues were the same. We talked about workforce, education, housing,” Ehemann said. She came home recognizing that something is lacking in Shelby County.
“We need stuff at the local level that is nonpartisan, a nonpartisan sharing of ideas. We need more ways to reach out to women, because women need to be asked. Women don’t stand there and say, ‘Pick me.’ We’re too ready to see the barriers,” she said.
The trip wasn’t all brainstorming and thinking. The U.S. delegation had a private tour of part of the German Historical Museum, visited the Bundestag, which is the German parliament, went to the Brandenburg Gate and what’s still standing of the Berlin Wall.
“And we had German food,” Ehemann said. She tried schnitzel for the first time — “It’s a lot like pork tenderloin,” she noted — and enjoyed fruity aperitifs and German beer. But it was the desserts that captured her palate and her heart.
“German pastries are fabulous,” she said.
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