An estimated 81 percent of East Germany's women are now in the work force-believed to be the highest figure in the world .
The East German woman-worker, scholar, shopper and baby-producer-is at the center of one of the world's most far-reaching social experiments that is unfolding in this tightly controlled Communist state.
Like her male counterpart, she still cannot speak out publicly against the prevailing political ideology or foreign policy set in Moscow, or travel to the West. But in many other ways, she is the most emancipated in East or West and is coming to dominate important elements of the East German scene.
East Germany's continuing dilemma for the past several years has been that it needs more babies to stem a declining population and mork workers, especially skilled workers, to plug a lingering scarcity of labor. Since women contribute to solutions for both problems, they are the center of attraction.
The East Berlin government, with German efficiency and conviction, has embarked on a variety of new projects and expanded some older ones that, taken it their totality, add up to an extraordinary effort to officially induce changes in the life style of its citizens and the thoughts of its young people.
Although the government tends to portray this country as kind of a socialist paradise, it may be more of a paradise in the long run for sociologists studying human and governmental behavior.
There are four key elements to what is happening here:
The nationwide system of nursery school-day care centers is expanding as fast as the Berlin government can find money to subsidize them. Children as young as 10 weeks can be brought to these centers and be cared for from dawn until night while their mothers work. The cost to the mother is 60 cents a day.
About 60 percent of all East German children under 3 are now in these centers, where they receive what seems to be excellent personal and medical care and the first dose of what directors call "learning the socialist way of life and work."
The 40 percent of East German infants who are not in these centers generally are cared for at home by their mothers under a generous, newly expanded system of baby bonuses designed to induce women to have babies yet return soon to work. Thus, for a first child, a woman now gets six months off work at full pay. For her second child and any more she gets a full year off at full pay.
In addition, there is a $500 bonus for each child, smaller $10 to $25 monthly additions to income for each new baby, and loans of up to $2,500 that don't need to be paid back if enough children are produced.
The result is that after years of not only a declining birth rate but a dropping population, East Germany's birth rate has climbed slowly but steadily since 1976. It jumped to a seven-year high in 1978 when 232,136 babies were born. That was just enough to eclipse the death rate and the country recorded its first population increase in a decade.
In contrast to the incentives to have children, East Germany also has what doctors here say is probably the most liberal abortion policy of any country in the world. The matter is strictly up to the woman, except when she is under 18, when her parents are consulted. The husband or father has no say in the matter, and a prospective mother can have an abortion at a state hospital simply by asking for one.
Typically, say doctors at a district hospital, about one in four East German pregnancies now end in abortion. While this seems contradictory to the state's baby-boom policy, officials say it contributes to keeping more women in the work force full time-without interruptions for pregnancy leave-and fewer unwanted babies.
The result of these three measures and their gradual expansion in recent years is that an extimated 81 percent of East German women are now in the work force-believed to be the highest figure in the world.
Another result is that women control much of East Germany's schools and health services. The 900,000 children in nurseries and kindergartens are entirely in the hands of women. The overwhelming majority of East German teachers in elementary and high schools are women and it is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the doctors and 80 percent of the dentists are women.
When the large number of university-trained women with degrees in science and technology are added into this mixture, it produces a sense that many Western visitors here get, and that a number of East Germans tend to confirm in private conversation, that East German women today are the dominant force in their society.
The fourth element of government-ordered social policy, on the surface at least, does not appear to fit in with the other three. It involves an order, which went into effect last September, to introduce premilitary training into the ninth and 10th grades for youngsters 14 years or older. The action has been opposed sharply by the churches and, on the basis of some scattered interviews here, is not taken very seriously by many young people.
Yet, the order plugs a gap in the official ideological development of East Germany's teen-age generation between the end of formal schooling and the beginning of a career and thus it can also be seen as a measure to refresh the mind of any youngster that wanders away from the socialist ideal and the need to remain vigilant against "Western imperialism."
Population has always been a special problem here, symbolically and practically. East Germany suffered a massive loss of its population, including many skilled workers, in the immediate postwar years, when 2 million people of its 1949 population of 19 million fled to the West before the country sealed its borders and built the Berlin Wall in 1961.
Still, population dwindled from 17 million in 1968 to 16.7 million in 1977. The country had the lowest birth rate in the Communist Bloc.
The long-term key to East Berlin's social policy seems to be the nursery school-kindergarten program which now costs about $500 million a year. There are about 7,000 nursery schools alone and, while they are heartily endorsed by most people here, there is also an element of uncertain social effect.
"So far the children have not shown any damge," said Dr. Siegfried Kotsch, head of a district hospital in Grossenhain, north of here. "But how it turns out historically with a large number of people we cannot say. The state recognizes the importance of 'nest-warning,'" meaning keeping child and mother together as much as possible, which is why the longer pregnancy leaves have been introduced.
"There is a certain disadvantage when you change the mother or the substitute personality, in this case a nurse, up to the third year of life," added Dr. Doris Joachim, chief of the medical staff at Goerlitz district hospital.
"So we try not to change the nurses. The ideal would be part-time work for the mother, but we can't afford that yet. Basically, however, if the family is complete, it is not a problem," meaning the child has sufficient time with its parents.
East Germany, however, also has one of the world's highest divorce rates, stemming from a divorce law that makes little economic differential between men and women, since virtually all women are employed.
At a nursery here in Dresden, one of 95 in the city, directors outlined the advantages for both mothers and the 80 children cared for here.
"Certainly it's better for the state because many mothers have advanced degrees so the state benefits from using them rather than having them look after babies," said nursing director Waltraud Fischer, 35.
"I was a housewife for two years and was kept busy shopping, cooking and washing all day and had little spare time for my children.
"They learn a lot here. We put great value on the child growing up in a collective group and those parents who really care find the time to maintain contact. The situation here is much superior to a child brought up at home," Fischer said.
Regina Tusche, 29, is the deputy director. She is the only Communist Party member on the staff of 12 teachers here. She is also the only one wearing a touch of makeup. Yes, she explained, there is some ideological education or indoctrination among the very young, but it is limited at that age to explaining behavior to each other, the importance of national holidays to the working class and, in kindergarten, explaining solidarity to other nations and races.
The rooms of the nursery are bright yet orderly. Children under 2 are helped to feed themselves and dress but do much of it on their own. Bathrooms have miniature sinks and mirrors built close to the floor. Rows of brushes, towels and clothes are in individual holders with symbols of ships or mushrooms that a child can identify before he can read his name.
"They are trained to have a loving relationship with the dolls," says nurse Tusche, "but there is no individual doll for each child.