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 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?