Women rights and gender equality: the case of Switzerland

Switzerland is considered one of the best examples of advanced country: neutral in wars, often turning to the main tool of direct democracy (the referendum), civil rights such as euthanasia, headquarter of the Red Cross and host of international treats like the Geneva Conventions. But they have their contradictions as well, banks who accepted tax evaders or Nazis money, a pinch of intolerance and, last but not least, an incredible delay in giving women equal rights. Perhaps not everyone knows that Swiss women got the right to vote only in 1971.

Just to make some examples, it’s eight years after Afghanistan and one before Bangladesh. Only in the Arabian Peninsula went – and keeps going – much worse, while Liechtenstein and Portugal are the only European countries that had been slower, the second one were in a phase of transition after Salazar‘s dictatorship though.

The map of the achievement for women to vote in Switzerland at a cantonal level

To be precise, 1971 is the year when women vote had been introduced at a federal level. Some Cantons changed their laws in 1959 (Vaud and Neuchâtel), others did it even later: Appenzell Innherroden was the last, only in 1989.

The first requests date back to 1928, after the achievements of the Suffragettes, but they were left unheard even because of the opposition of some women associations, which preferred to keep the role of mothers and child raisers. Switzerland resisted the pressure of the European Convention on Human Rights and the cultural revolution of women, students, workers in the Sixties. Until postponing the vote wasn’t possible anymore. In the referendum of February the 27th 1971, two men out of three were finally convinced to “generously” allow women to vote.

Equalization went by step by step. Until 1992, a Swiss woman who married a foreigner automatically lost her nationality, unless she declared the will to keep it. In 2000 the conjoined parental authority was introduced, while in 2002 abortion during the firs twelve weeks became legal – actually it was possible since 1942 but only after medical prescription.

1928, a women demonstration in Switzerland for the right to vote

Despite this lateness, Switzerland overcame the southern neighbor easily. One out of three users of the clinics in the Canton of Ticino is Italian, as in Italy it’s hard to get the Ru486 pill and it’s easy to find conscientious objectors among doctors.

Since 2013 women have the chance to keep their family name after getting married and choose the last name for their children. Regarding the domestic violence, the first federal law aimed at women protection dates back to 1993. In 2007 the removal from the residence for violent episodes is ratified and since 2017 there is the electronic surveillance to prevent the possibility for the former partner to get physically closer. According to police reports, 17 thousand crimes were committed in 2016, with 19 victims, one of them was a male.

Gender inequalities in politics or at work are more or less the same of most countries. In 2015, the lower chamber had the 30% of women, over the international average of 22% but below Scandinavia (around 40%) and even Rwanda (60%). The upper chamber, expression of cantonal autonomy, has only the 15% of women.

The Swiss Federal Statistical Office calculated the the gender pay gap is about 7,7 billion of francs – 7 billion euros. An justification given says that women are worse (or less interested?) than men in negotiating better salaries. 79% of women has an employment but usually less qualified. Part-time jobs are an option for 59% of women, while it’s chosen by only 16% of men. Parental leave is partly connected. Since 2016 there are cross movements that ask for federal assistance for fatherhood leave.

Women in Switzerland demonstrating for the 1971 referendum that finally give them the right to vote

In September 2018 a project of analysis and checks to verify salaries and organizational charts of companies with more than a hundred employees was launched, with the purpose to contrast inequalities.

Despite all these problems and delays, Switzerland was placed in the ninth place in the 2013 Global Gender Gap, a rank on an international scale, even if it fell in 21st position in 2017. This shows that the road is hard for every country, no matter the name or reputation.


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