It’s the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Switzerland – but only the 50th. Do we have reason to celebrate? Yes and no.
Yes – we’ve come a long way. The number of women appointed to the Federal Assembly in the national elections in 2019 reached a record 40 percent. ‘Helvetia ruft!’, a non-partisan movement promoting women in politics, was launched in 2018 owing to concerns that the proportion of women might decline in the upcoming national elections. It encouraged women to stand for election and prepared the candidates to take office through workshops and mentoring. The aim of the movement is for men and women to occupy an equal role in political decision-making in Switzerland. The non-partisan movement Helvetia ruft! was founded by Kathrin Bertschy and Flavia Kleiner,and is now supported by hundreds of women and run byalliance F.alliance F seeks to represent women’s voices in Swiss politics.
Equal pay and equal opportunities?
No – there is still significant work to do in areassuch as equal pay and equal opportunities. The fact is that women are still hugely under-represented on administrative boards, boards of trustees and management teams, particularly in SMEs and large companies. Is this the effect of women only having received their political rights so late in the day? This is a topic that deserves reflection over the coming year. The website Ch2021.ch offers insights into the history of women’s rights in Switzerland.
Brothers without sisters
Swiss women’s associations criticised the Federal Council in 1948, saying that Switzerland was a ‘nation of brothers without sisters’. The Federal Council’s motto for the centenary of the Federal Constitution was ‘Switzerland: a nation of brothers’. At the time, most other European countries had already introduced women’s suffrage. Almost ten years later, on 5 March 1957, the Municipal Council of Unterbäch, Valais, granted women one-off voting rights, against the will of the Swiss government. Unterbäch is still known as the ‘Swiss women’s Rütli’ – Rütli being the site where the Swiss Confederacy was first founded. It would be another 14 years before women were granted their democratic rights on 7 February 1971. This was thanks to decades of fighting by brave women. The CH2021association is providing a Swiss-wide information and networking platform in honour of the 50th anniversary. The implications of the late introduction of women’s suffrage for women today should also be a topic of discussion in 2021.
Do we have reason to celebrate?
It is important to celebrate and honour what has been achieved – online for now, and perhaps in person later in the year. It is equally important to reflect on the real reason why there remain so many disadvantaged industries, and industries in which women are hugely under-represented in leadership positions.
The 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage is about women. It puts them in the spotlight, rather than just including them in the chorus.