A reluctant feminist: Merkel still inspires women

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become a feminist icon after 16 years in power.

Even though the world's most powerful woman has only belatedly accepted that label as she prepares to step down, and conceded that gender equality is still a long way off.

Alice Schwarzer is a feminist rights activist.

She says the very fact of Merkel's existence is a feminist statement.

"Her biggest merit is that in all of these incredible crises she has managed to get through with a considerable decency. And with her reliance on facts and modesty she has been one of the most, if not the most powerful woman in the world. And I am proud of that."

A rare woman in the upper echelons of her conservative, male-dominated Christian Democrats party, the 67-year-old long avoided casting herself as a feminist and has only reluctantly supported some policies pushed by feminists such as quotas for women in boardrooms.

However, as her time in power draws to a close, she has reconsidered her position- speaking earlier this month:

"So today, I can answer the question with a yes and say I am a feminist. Back then on stage I tried to make the point somewhat more shyly (laughter). Today I have thought my answer through more and so I can say yes: we should all be feminists."

Women and girls say the impact of Merkel - who is often known as "Mutti," or mum, has been profound in a country where traditional gender roles are only changing slowly.

"I think she has so much strength and influence on so many people and I do think especially woman!"

"Well it has meant, at least in Germany, that one trusts a woman in the top job. I think she has done a lot to pave the way for others, now it is completely normal to see female chancellor candidates. And this hasn't always been the case."

"This has never been a question for me! Of course anyone can achieve anything. I don't find it particularly significant that a female politician is in Germany's top position."

Germans will head to the polls on September 26.

On Thursday, Merkel declined to speculate on the outcome of the national election.

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