28 years ago 500,000 women in Switzerland took part in the Frauenstreik, or Women’s Strike, to protest the slow implementation of the equality article in the constitution, written a decade prior. In 2019, they’re striking again…
Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world, has one the highest life expectancies and a huge proportional spend on health care. Couple that with the rolling hills and snowy mountains and you might think that it’s a dream place to live. But there’s one rather large problem: its inequality stats are horrifying.
The event, known as the second Women’s Strike following the protests in 1991, has been put together by numerous organisations, Unions and rights groups that say: “Our strike is against any form of structural oppression, discrimination and violence found in the capitalist and patriarchal system. That’s why we rise up against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.”
The protests began at midnight with women in purple, the movement’s signature colour, taking to the streets. Throughout the day women will be turning away from work in favour of mass picnics, self-defence classes, equal pay demonstrations and awareness campaigns, as they demand more time, more money, more respect.
History repeats itself
Progress in Switzerland has been a long, slow process. In 1971 the country became the last Western republic to grant women the right to vote, over five decades after neighboring countries began to implement equal voting rights.
Then on 14 June 1981, the country voted for an equality article to be written into the constitution. 10 years later, with no official policy in place, the women rose up.
Yes, the laws have changed now. The Equality Act outlawed gender discrimination in the workplace, marital rape was criminalised in 2004 and a year later maternity leave was introduced. But reading those dates is enough proof that things are years, if not decades, behind where they should be.
Switzerland in 2019
Much like our own country, equality in the eyes of the law doesn’t mean equality in our pay packets or social status. “We are fed up with waiting,” one leaflet for the strike reads.
“We want a society based on equality and solidarity, without discrimination, without sexism and violence against women*, regardless of the colour of our skin, our culture, our origin or religion, our passport, our sexual and gender identity, our age or social status.”
Switzerland’s gender pay gap sits at around 20% for professional women, and according to the International Labour Organisation the country is bottom of the list in pay rates between men and women in senior roles. It’s been 14 years since they were granted maternity leave, but the entitlement still only allows them 16 weeks off of work.
In power, things don’t get better. Only 32% of people in the Swiss National Council, are women and just 15% of Swiss senators are female.
According to Amnesty International, one in five women over the age of 16 have been a victim of sexual assault.
In recent times, the uprising of women can’t be under estimated. Switzerland may be behind in terms of equality, but it’s women are pathing the way for the rest of us to find our voices.