A war raged for weeks over the appointment of Ferda Ataman to the office of Federal Anti-Discrimination Commissioner (ADS) – which also gained new independence with her. She herself was accused of discrimination and of playing down migrant criminals.

Nevertheless, she received more votes in the Bundestag in early July than the coalition that nominated her. Now the much-hostile has presented the annual report of her small authority for the first time – the fourth of the authority, which has been in existence for 16 years.

Ataman expressly did not mention the war of words in June, but preceded the presentation of the report with a programmatic and personal declaration at the beginning of her term of office, which can certainly be read as a comment: Ataman said discrimination violates basic civil and human rights. And it doesn’t just affect minorities.

The over-50-year-old, who is no longer employed because of his age despite the lack of skilled workers, is also affected, as is the young woman who is asked during the interview whether she wants children.

A conscious approach to discrimination and an active anti-discrimination policy are therefore “good for everyone”. She emphasizes this because it “is often wrongly dismissed as identity politics”. The request of a wheelchair user who was recently denied a ride on a bus, “It has nothing to do with identity politics. These are requests from citizens demanding their rights.”

She added: “It is discrimination that divides society, not those who address it.” And anti-discrimination policy “realizes not only the right to equality, but also the right to freedom”. It is first and foremost a duty of the state, “but there must be no discrimination among the citizens either.” In this respect, good laws, on the other hand, are “a civil law basis for decency and cooperation” for everyone.

bind first of all the state, but

In general, the concept of identity politics is somewhat “bulky and difficult to understand”. She doesn’t know whether it would be happy to take such things directly from the USA and translate them one-to-one. Anyone who fights against discrimination as a black person, as a disabled person or as a Jew does not do so for this reason. “People demand equality because they don’t get it. Not because they have an identity.”

Of course, not only the person at the head of the anti-discrimination authority (ADS) and the redefinition of the office, which was filled by the Bundestag for the first time, are new. For the first time since the ADS was created more than 15 years ago – implementing a requirement of the European Union – its tasks could also change significantly.

In the coalition agreement, the traffic light promised itself that gaps in protection would be “closed, legal protection improved and the area of ​​application expanded” – the ban on discrimination does not yet apply to government agencies, schools, offices and the police, but where discrimination often occurs with drastic consequences.

The current annual report mentions other white spots: rights that the General Equal Treatment Act created at the time are often not enforceable. So far, it has been up to those affected to defend themselves against discrimination, they themselves have to go to court – which can cost money and other resources. According to the report, this “does not do justice to the social consequences of discrimination (…).

The two women who sat next to Ataman on the podium, Eva-Maria Andrades and Violeta Barlog, added what is meant by this. Andrades is the managing director of the German Anti-Discrimination Association, which organizes the contact and advice centers on the subject.

Barlog heads the documentation center for antiziganist incidents at Amaro Foro, a Berlin youth association of Sinti and Roma, in which non-members of the minority also work. “Not all people have the privilege of being able to defend themselves against discrimination,” said Barlog. That is why it is important if trade associations can do this in their place or support them.

“The educator has to sue herself if she loses her job because of the headscarf,” said Andrades. Understandably, many do not. But that has consequences beyond the individual person: “Discrimination is rewarded with it. And many important questions cannot be clarified in principle.”

According to the report, protection against discrimination in Germany is “weak compared to other European countries”. Among other things, the ADS itself proposes the right to take collective action. She also wants more research and data collection to make discrimination visible at all, and more advice and education on how victims of discrimination can defend themselves – either through the ADS itself advising or through the appropriate equipment of expert associations and NGOs.

The report proves that there is a need for this: last year, 5,617 inquiries were received in the ADS advisory service. This means that the number remains “overall at a high level” even after the previous year, which was shaped by Corona.

In 2020, requests for advice had climbed to a record level, with 6,383 cases at the time meaning an increase of 78 percent compared to 2019. According to Ataman, the new numbers are still “the second highest value in the history of ADS”.

There were almost as many inquiries about racial discrimination as in 2020, when there was a lot of public attention on the subject because the death of Black US citizen George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and the racist murders in Hanau dominated the debate for many weeks.

With a share of 37 percent, racial discrimination, i.e. that which is called “because of ethnic characteristics” in the law, is the most frequently mentioned reason, followed by disability (32 percent), gender (20), age (10), religion (6) , sexual identity (4) and world view (3).

Last year, probably due to the pandemic, the characteristic “disability and chronic diseases” pushed ahead of all other reasons. The General Equal Treatment Act does not protect against all forms of discrimination, but defines precisely these seven characteristics.

Most people experienced discrimination at work (28 percent) and when accessing private services, i.e. in the supermarket, in restaurants, in clubs, which they could not enter (33 percent).

In more than a third of the cases, however, it happened in places where the General Anti-Discrimination Act (AGG) does not apply or only partially applies – i.e. in offices, with the police or in court. “But discrimination, discriminatory insults and violence were also regularly experienced and described in the education sector, in social media or in public space,” says ADS in a statement.

The traffic light coalition now wants to do more to combat discrimination by the state by amending the AGG; A key issues paper on its reform should be available by the end of the year. Because of Germany’s federal constitution, however, large areas cannot be covered by a federal law – the police and schools, for example, are a matter for the federal states.

However, she welcomes the fact that the position of an independent police officer is also included in the coalition agreement. Alleged or actual racial profiling, especially by the federal police, has often been the subject of complaints and lawsuits in court.

Even if not everything can be regulated in the AGG, says Ataman: You now see a historic moment. It is the first time the law has been “actually touched upon” since it came into force in 2006. And it is not this one law that is decisive, but also state regulations such as the Berlin Anti-Discrimination Act, which came into force in 2020. In the end, help and advice should be available as widely as possible.

The person of the new anti-discrimination officer then became an issue. Ataman had to make it clear again that she hadn’t called white Germans potatoes and to explain whether she now regrets having offered the “Golden Potato” as a co-founder of the “Neue Deutschen Medienmacher” (NdM) – a negative prize, according to the statement NdM, “for the most underground reporting on the immigration society”.

There was a brief “No” from the head of the authorities. An equally clear “yes” when asked by a public-service journalist whether she was the right person in the new office. Anti-discrimination work means taking sides. She now wants to try to “draw the attention that has arisen through the controversy surrounding the office and her person” to the topic.

And that, as critics have said, they downplay forced marriages and crime among immigrants? Ataman referred to her reporting – several years ago she wrote for the Tagesspiegel and later for Spiegel online: “I can’t quite explain it, I’ve dealt with all these topics as a publicist.”

However, she is pleased that some of her critics approached her after the election and said they wanted to look ahead and hoped for good cooperation.

After the many questions about the new woman in office, there was still the question of the proverbial “old white man” – whether he was really never discriminated against? That could well be the case, but such cases “do not occur at the anti-discrimination agency,” Ataman replied.

Neither in the advice centers of civil society anti-discrimination work, Eva-Maria Andrades added: “Of course he can be discriminated against because of his age, maybe a disability. But not because of his German origins.”