Switzerland celebrates 40 years women’s suffrage

     At first I wouldn’t believe it – only 40 years since Switzerland allowed women a vote in federal politics! But it’s true. After fighting for over 100 years, Swiss women finally achieved the right to vote on February 7, l971. That’s 133 years after the South Pacific Island of Pitcairn, 53 years after neighbouring Germany and 50 years after Aserbeidschan. I knew Switzerland was conservative, but that bad??

The traditional costumes fit the Swiss woman well, but not the traditional roles.

The traditional costumes fit the Swiss woman well, but not the traditional roles.

     The women made a fast comeback. Since last September, they have a majority in the executive government. Switzerland doesn’t have a prime minister – instead seven elected members share the responsibility, in a long standing formula of party membership. Each year a different chairman is elected – and this year it is Micheline Calmy-Rey. A woman!
     I choke at the reasoning given for withholding women the vote. Phrases like, ‘give them the vote and the next thing they’ll want is equal rights. Or, ‘Women belong at the stove’. Men and women were concerned that the family peace and unity would be broken.
     A main concern was that women’s role as mothers would mix poorly with that of politics. Posters at the time depicted a baby fallen out of its cradle, a cat in its place – No to Women’s Vote. Or a young child crying, ‘Mommy, come home!’
     There was good reason to be concerned of course. Traditional roles between men and women made for peace at home, because there was nothing to fight about. He had the say (well, at least in public). I myself grew up under these rigid roles. When I got married in l979 I had no problem moving from Canada to rural Switzerland where my new husband farmed. Although a rebel and definitely not into the notion of obeying my husband just for its own merit, I fought in theory more than in practise. I was comfortable running the household and caring for our two boys. There was much to do on the farm, which I enjoyed.
     Exactly ten years after women got the vote, 1981, I went to the polls in Switzerland and voted ‘yes’ for equal rights for women. My husband voted ‘no’. Some heated discussions preceded the vote in our house, but to Robert’s defence, he accepted my opinions and vote. The bill went through.
     A social worker I spoke with says women still haven’t got equal rights. The German magazine, ‘Der Spiegel’ just made quotas for employing women their main topic. I must say I’ve never been comfortable with that idea. I want to know I’ve been hired on the merit of my abilities, not because they have to because I am a woman. That somehow seems demeaning.
     So the discussion isn’t over. What do you think about this?

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2 Responses to Switzerland celebrates 40 years women’s suffrage

  1. Margrit says:

    Equal rights… equal opportunities?? In Canada and US, we pretty much have equal legal/political rights. However, women’s opportunities are often most limited by our own expectations and values (not just the men in our lives). As a young adult, I fiercely pursued my independence. Now that I’m comfortable with who I am, I continue to value my independence, but I don’t feel the need to be *fierce* anymore. I am grateful that I live in a world where I can pursue my interests, work, etc. to whatever extent my own ambition takes me (or not). Now that I’m married (we’re both self-employed), I find myself stuck in the role of primary keeper of my home/family. I’m partly ok with that because I value my family. Yet I’m also frustrated because when we got married, my husband got a business partner, and I… did not get a business partner for myself. I take care of both my own, and his, businesses. I’m more independent than my husband, yet he still makes more money. Why? Cuz he has a business partner, I don’t. So this all comes back to our own expectations and how we’ve been socialized — and the kind of men we’re attracted to. I have a friend who is the primary breadwinner while her husband is home and takes care of their child. She and I grew up in very similar homes — Swiss Canadian immigrant dairy farmers. Ultimately, I have to take responsibility for the choices I made — no one held a gun to my head, I am not a victim of my husband or society. Society gives me freedom — and my husband, although traditional, does not in anyway insist that I do what I do for him or family. As much as I made my choices, I am the only one who has the power to change them.

  2. Hallo Marianne!

    Having just moved from Switzerland into a small town in Saskatchewan, I had the unique perspective of studying and living with both cultures. Oddly enough, sometimes among even the Canadian farmers, the women aren’t accepted as a business partner. We may have the vote longer in Canada and we may be accepted for the work that we do, but getting used to women doing ‘deals’ in agricultural business, even here in Canada, is a challenge for some gentlemen! And it absolutely leads to some interesting social situations! lol

    Switzerland, however, is definitely the leader there, though. Women still belong mostly at home, looking after the children and making sure their husbands are well taken care of. On top of everything else that is quite ‘expected’. As a born Canadian, I was torn between feeling almost under par and righteous indignation at being expected to ‘cater’ to my husband’s needs after I finish helping him with the work outside. It was an amusing predicament! And considering what the women there thought and expected, I don’t think it’s something that will change anytime soon.


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