Is it enough to have come a long way?

Women work together for equality

Some chari­ties have addres­sed the issue of gender equality. A lot has been achie­ved. But there is still a long way to go. A glance at the membership of boards of trus­tees is enough to show that women are still underrepresented.

‘Women have achie­ved so much – and there’s still so much to do!’ says Rita Schmid. She is chair of the board of trus­tees at the Foun­da­tion for Rese­arch into Women’s Labour (Stif­tung für die Erfor­schung der Frau­en­ar­beit), foun­ded in 1960. The foun­da­tion was made possi­ble by the proce­eds from the second Swiss Exhi­bi­tion for Women’s Work (SAFFA) in 1958. The exhi­bi­tion was orga­nised by various diffe­rent women’s groups and their umbrella orga­ni­sa­tion, and addres­sed the role of women in modern society. In addi­tion to family respon­si­bi­li­ties and volun­tee­ring, women also wanted to be part of the profes­sio­nal workforce. 

The SAFFA 58 exhi­bi­tion also served as a kind of publi­city event for women’s suffrage. Their efforts remai­ned unsuc­cess­ful in this respect, howe­ver – Swiss men rejec­ted the propo­sal yet again in a vote in 1959.

Women’s labour

‘The charity’s forma­tion made a strong state­ment, howe­ver: that female labour is a multi-face­ted area of inve­sti­ga­tion,’ asserts Rita Schmid, adding that the board of trus­tees was made up of active campai­gners for women’s suffrage. This was finally gran­ted in 1971. Rita Hermann-Huber sees the fact that it took more than ten years after SAFFA 58 before women were given poli­ti­cal rights as a reflec­tion of the gender roles that prevai­led in that period. ‘I’m sure that at the time, SAFFA 58 did not find favour with many men, and indeed some women. Women belon­ged in the kitchen and with the child­ren,’ says the presi­dent of the Foun­da­tion for Civic Educa­tion and Trai­ning (Stif­tung für staats­bür­ger­li­che Erzie­hung und Schu­lung). This orga­ni­sa­tion, too, was foun­ded from the proce­eds of the exhi­bi­tion. The charity dedi­ca­ted itself to prepa­ring women to take up their civic respon­si­bi­li­ties. It aimed to deepen women’s under­stan­ding of the work that needed doing in the wider commu­nity. Many things have impro­ved since then. Since the intro­duc­tion of women’s suffrage, Hermann-Huber has seen major poli­ti­cal changes.

‘Which I’m thank­ful for,’ she says, but adds: ‘Equality has not yet been achie­ved at all levels, howe­ver. The gender pay gap and balan­cing work and family life are still proble­ma­tic areas.’ Action is still needed. And this is what guides the charity’s work. It aims to support projects that contri­bute to gender equality. The foun­da­tion is able to offer finan­cial support to 25–30 projects each year. It doesn’t carry out any projects itself, howe­ver. ‘Our foun­da­tion gene­rally recei­ves funding appli­ca­ti­ons from women’s orga­ni­sa­ti­ons,’ says Hermann-Huber. In recent years, she has seen a change in the kind of appli­ca­ti­ons they receive. There are an incre­a­sing number of projects aimed at migrant women. Violence against women is anot­her topic that has become more promi­nent, along­side gender issues. ‘When the women’s strike took place, we recei­ved a funding appli­ca­tion for a book with portraits of stri­kers, for example,’ she recounts. Howe­ver, the foun­da­tion only supports book projects if they are published by women’s orga­ni­sa­ti­ons or groups. Many orga­ni­sa­ti­ons are curr­ently plan­ning events to cele­brate the 50th anni­ver­s­ary of women’s suffrage. ‘Many of the project propo­sals we’ve recei­ved show that the question of gender equality is still a rele­vant one,’ says Hermann-Huber.

Posi­tive polarisation

Women faced many hurd­les, both in terms of their poli­ti­cal rights and work. They had to fight for ever­ything. When women stood up for their rights, a common criti­cism was that it led to social divi­si­ons. ‘The women were put back in their place. Major topics like a finan­cial crisis and alle­ged exter­nal thre­ats to Switz­er­land were given promi­nence to protect the principle of unity,’ explains Fran­ziska Schutz­bach. Schutz­bach is a socio­lo­gist and gender rese­ar­cher, and consi­ders the same issues to be rele­vant today: ‘We need courage and, above all, an under­stan­ding that conflict, conten­tion and pola­ri­sa­tion can also be good and important things.’ 

This is espe­cially true when it comes to gender equality issues, which can be very pola­ri­sing. But then the prevai­ling cultu­ral consen­sus has always over­powe­red the women’s move­ment, says Schutz­bach. Because women had no poli­ti­cal rights, women’s asso­cia­ti­ons and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons were a key force. And these chan­nels still provide support today. Parlia­men­tary policy alone is not enough, asserts Schutz­bach.
We need civil society, people out on the streets and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons like chari­ties. Schutz­bach wishes that the latter would ‘act with a little more courage in this area.’ In parti­cu­lar, she feels there is a lack of chari­ties that advo­cate for gender equality at a higher level and with a clear poli­ti­cal agenda. Schutz­bach is working to estab­lish a femi­nist insti­tute to carry out gender rese­arch and share the know­ledge with the wider public. The aim is to carry out meaning­ful, socially rele­vant and poli­ti­cally active rese­arch. The metho­do­logy and culture of the insti­tute will be diffe­rent to that of a tradi­tio­nal acade­mic insti­tu­tion. The focus will not be on publi­ca­ti­ons and profes­sor­ships, but on genera­ting know­ledge for a more eman­ci­pa­ted society. In Germany, party-affi­lia­ted foun­da­ti­ons such as the Rosa Luxem­burg Stif­tung and the Hein­rich Böll Stif­tung are enga­ged in poli­ti­cal educa­tio­nal work – but Switz­er­land lacks equi­va­lent insti­tu­ti­ons. Criti­cal know­ledge remains purely acade­mic and rarely finds its way into wider society, in part because many people leave school at 16 or undergo highly prac­ti­cal profes­sio­nal trai­ning. Yet poli­ti­cal educa­tion and indi­vi­du­als’ capa­city for criti­cal reflec­tion is essen­tial, parti­cu­larly in a direct democracy.

Impres­sive women

But there have always been women who put them­sel­ves out there. And men who acknow­led­ged them. This was reflec­ted in the crea­tion of the Irma Landolt-Lech­ner women’s foun­da­tion in 1974. The author and women’s acti­vist Meta von Salis-Marsch­lins made an impres­sion on Karl Landolt. ‘She impres­sed him because she refu­sed to be forced into the female role society had placed upon her,’ says chair of the board of trus­tees Ariane Bolli-Landolt. Karl Landolt enjoyed a part­nership on equal terms with his wife Irma – who raised four child­ren in addi­tion to working at the school. ‘They had clearly defi­ned roles, but these were consi­de­red of comple­tely equal value,’ Bolli-Landolt explains. 

It was only logi­cal that Karl Landolt, former head­ma­ster of a school for girls, went on to create a foun­da­tion dedi­ca­ted to advan­cing the rights of women. ‘It is an expres­sion of honour and respect for women in gene­ral, and for his part­ner Irma Lech­ner and single mother Marie Landolt-Übel­mann in parti­cu­lar,’ says Bolli-Landolt. A man also played a role in the foun­da­tion of the Elisa­be­then­werk­stif­tung. ‘At the time and in that genera­tion, it was progres­sive for a man to set up a foun­da­tion that suppor­ted women’s projects,’ says trus­tee Rosma­rie Koller-Schmid. Karl Hompesch foun­ded the Elisa­be­then­werk­stif­tung in 2003. As a Catho­lic, he was fami­liar with the story of Saint Eliza­beth, who helped the poor. He was also acquain­ted with the Elisa­be­then­werk orga­ni­sa­tion run by the Swiss Catho­lic Women’s Fede­ra­tion (SKF). ‘Of course, he could have just left a bequ­est to the Elisa­be­then­werk orga­ni­sa­tion,’ says Liliane Parmig­giani, fund­rai­ser for Elisa­be­then­werk. But he wanted the money to go directly to the projects run by the Elisa­be­then­werk. The Elisa­be­then­werk supports women in Uganda, India and Boli­via and helps them find their way out of poverty, whate­ver their reli­gious and ethnic back­ground. Local project staff work with women affec­ted by poverty to deve­lop oppor­tu­nities for earning their own income, share know­ledge about hygiene and family plan­ning and do preven­tive work against traf­ficking and dome­stic violence.

The Elisabethenwerk’s projects also involve boosting women’s self-confi­dence. The Elisa­be­then­werk pres­ents a progres­sive image of women – which some might find surpri­sing given the Catho­lic context. This is down to the SKF, with which it is affi­lia­ted, and which is the largest reli­gious women’s umbrella orga­ni­sa­tion in Switz­er­land. ‘There is a Catho­lic Church that exists outside of the offi­cial church insti­tu­tion,’ explains Parmig­giani. ‘People are always posi­tively surpri­sed by how progres­sive the SKF is.’ This is clearly reflec­ted in the federation’s work promo­ting equal rights for women within the Catho­lic Church, and in the gender equality issues rela­ting to marriage suppor­ted by the federation’s board.

‘In order to have the courage to demand their rights, women need empower­ment and a finan­cial foun­da­tion,’ says Parmig­giani. ‘In other words, work.’ The same applies in Switzerland.

What is work?

Fran­ziska Schutz­bach also high­lights the signi­fi­cance of work as a symbol of equality. She obser­ves that a lot has been achie­ved since the first women’s strike. Today, the majo­rity of women are in employ­ment. But it remains a tricky topic. Many women work part-time, and suffer disad­van­ta­ges in their career and reduc­tions in their pension as a result. ‘Employ­ment is often first and fore­most about adap­ting to the male envi­ron­ment,’ says Schutz­bach. ‘If being part of the capi­ta­list produc­tion process is the only measure of success, I think that’s a pretty sad vision of eman­ci­pa­tion.’ Inequa­lity and discri­mi­na­tion remain major issues. Women who work still conti­nue to shoul­der the burden of house­hold chores and family duties. ‘Women in Switz­er­land have always had to fight hard for their place,’ says Schutz­bach. Many deve­lo­p­ments came late in the day. Mari­tal rape only became an offence prose­cuted ex offi­cio in 2004. Mater­nity leave was only intro­du­ced in 2005. ‘The fact that we are still fight­ing for equal pay and deman­ding govern­men­tal measu­res is some­ti­mes called a kind of dicta­tor­ship,’ says Schutz­bach. ‘But it’s the oppo­site. Oppo­sing discri­mi­na­tion and inequa­lity is a sign of demo­cracy, and is a consti­tu­tio­nal obli­ga­tion. The government is respon­si­ble for ensu­ring equal pay and taking action.’ Rita Schmid also laments the conti­nued existence of the gender pay gap – and looks to the future: ‘Digi­ta­li­sa­tion in the work­place raises new questi­ons that need to be addres­sed from a gender perspec­tive.’ At the Foun­da­tion for Rese­arch into Women’s Labour, this current dimen­sion is just as important as histo­ri­cal analy­sis. On the one hand, the foun­da­tion wants to high­light women’s achie­ve­ments in the collec­tive histo­ri­cal and cultu­ral memory of an enligh­te­ned society. On the other, it wants to encou­rage criti­cal exami­na­tion of current working condi­ti­ons in envi­ron­ments with an above-average propor­tion of female workers, such as the care sector and retail. ‘Equality and work are closely inter­wo­ven,’ says Schmid. This starts with how ‘work’ is defi­ned and what is consi­de­red ‘work’. If an acti­vity contri­bu­tes to society, it should be reco­gnised as work and remu­ne­ra­ted accord­in­gly. ‘We know that there have histo­ri­cally been, and conti­nue to be, major diffe­ren­ces in the assess­ment of perfor­mance, pay, career trajec­to­ries, work-life balance and employ­ment oppor­tu­nities from a gender perspec­tive,’ says Schmid. ‘Despite signi­fi­cant progress in recent deca­des, women are still subject to widespread discri­mi­na­tion in terms of the respect and appre­cia­tion accor­ded to the work they perform.’ Ariane Bolli-Landolt shares this view: ‘It’s no secret that women make a huge contri­bu­tion, not only within their own fami­lies but in terms of caring for (sick) rela­ti­ves, volun­teer work and socio­cul­tu­ral projects. They receive nowhere near enough reco­gni­tion for this, let along getting paid.’

Diver­sity does good

To make sure the topic of gender is given suffi­ci­ent consi­de­ra­tion within the orga­ni­sa­tion, the Kyria umbrella foun­da­tion has ensh­ri­ned it in its statu­tes. Tanja Bootz and Brigitt Küttel foun­ded Kyria in 2019. It is the first umbrella orga­ni­sa­tion that expressly aims to involve and empower women. ‘We care about addres­sing these issues,’ says mana­ging direc­tor Küttel. ‘Diver­sity does so much good and is so valu­able,’ adds Bootz. The topic figu­red promi­n­ently in Küttel’s youth. Gender equality was discus­sed around the dinner table. Küttel was eight years old when women were given the vote. She still remem­bers it as an important moment. ‘When my mother Elisa­beth Kopp was asked to become a member of the Muni­ci­pal Coun­cil, the topic became even more signi­fi­cant – she couldn’t very well fight for some­thing for years and then turn down the candi­dacy.’ Today, former Federal Coun­cil­lor Elisa­beth Kopp is a member of the Kyria board of trus­tees. In her honour, and because of the import­ance of the issue, the umbrella foun­da­tion formed the Elisa­beth Kopp fund for the advan­ce­ment of women. Its first project was to initiate and finance a data­base contai­ning over 200 foun­da­ti­ons from across Switz­er­land dedi­ca­ted to supporting women and women’s projects. The deci­sion to play an active role was made in the early days of Kyria. ‘We deci­ded in the first meeting of the board of trus­tees that we didn’t just want to create funds and make dona­ti­ons to causes and topics that were brought to our atten­tion. We wanted to be active oursel­ves and make our values felt,’ says Küttel. The Kyria umbrella orga­ni­sa­tion actively opens its own funds for this purpose. In doing so, it wants to give small-scale donors the oppor­tu­nity to get invol­ved in, and support, these issues and values.

 Incre­a­sing visibility

‘While the topic of gender is important, we don’t want to be pigeon­ho­led,’ says chair of the board of trus­tees Tanja Bootz. They want to be active in the areas that matter to them and get invol­ved in a variety of diffe­rent ways. Which is why the board of trus­tees has a diverse membership. By contrast, the board of trus­tees of the Irma Landolt-Lech­ner women’s foun­da­tion is made up enti­rely of women. This is not a formal requi­re­ment. ‘It’s become a kind of unwrit­ten rule,’ says Ariane Bolli-Landolt, howe­ver. ‘I don’t see it as a prere­qui­site for doing good work, but I really value nomi­na­ting our female prize winners as part of a purely female commit­tee.’ The foun­da­tion pres­ents awards to women who have done outstan­ding work in the cultu­ral or social sector. Bolli-Landolt feels that raising the profile of these achie­ve­ments is more important than having a balance of genders on the board of trus­tees. Women are still in the mino­rity on boards of trus­tees in the Swiss charity sector as a whole. The Stif­tungs­re­port 2020 (for 2019) listed a total of 12,763 chairs of boards, of which only 20.4 percent were women. The propor­tion of women among the 61,106 board members more gene­rally was slightly higher at 27.9 percent. At an execu­tive manage­ment level, women made up 34.4 percent. With these figu­res in mind, Brigitt Küttel asserts that there is still a lot of work to do in the charity sector, as well as in society at large. ‘We are seeing more and more women beco­m­ing incre­a­singly asser­tive, howe­ver,’ adds Bootz. ‘Women also incre­a­singly have their own money, and are wanting to use it to make a diffe­rence.’ Both women are scep­ti­cal about intro­du­cing quotas to boost the repre­sen­ta­tion of women. ‘We’re not sure a manda­tory quota is the best idea,’ says Küttel. ‘The most important thing is still having the best quali­fi­ca­ti­ons for the posi­tion in question and, in the case of chari­ties, an inte­rest in the topic. Howe­ver, a quota can at least encou­rage people to make more of an effort to appoint women to execu­tive bodies and commit­tees, and that is defi­ni­tely a posi­tive thing.’ Fran­ziska Schutz­bach is not a big fan of quotas either, even though she would defi­ni­tely support them. ‘If we need a quota, it indi­ca­tes that a lot of other things are wrong,’ she says. ‘It isn’t enough just to put a few more women on commit­tees.’ What matters is for chari­ties to actively engage with gender issues. There is usually a gender aspect to most topics. Orga­ni­sa­ti­ons may need to consult exter­nal experts to help explore these questi­ons – how is gender equality linked with the envi­ron­ment, for example? Or arts funding? ‘Of course, this might involve appoin­ting more women to manage­ment posi­ti­ons within your foun­da­tion,’ says Schutz­bach. ‘But it is often the case – and rese­arch is being done on this – that when male-domi­na­ted orga­ni­sa­ti­ons get invol­ved in gender equality issues, these orga­ni­sa­ti­ons gene­rally become more respon­sive to these topics them­sel­ves within their own struc­tures, and over time will natu­rally appoint a more diverse staff.’

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