Every year the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Swiss-based foundation, publishes its Global Gender Gap ranking. This year Switzerland slipped to 21st, down from 11th last year. This slump was caused by a single event.
The ranking scores countries in 14 areas. These are weighted and consolidated into a single figure. On 9 of the 14, Switzerland showed no change or a small improvement. On another 4 there was a small deterioration. On one there was a precipitous fall – compare 2016 with 2017.
The chain of events leading to this year’s plunge in the ranking started a decade earlier in 2007.
The executive branch of Switzerland’s government, known as the Federal Council, consists of seven people.
The “magic formula”, a convention dating from the 1950s, requires party representation in the Federal Council to roughly fit with the percentages of seats held by the main parties in the Federal Assembly – the 200-seat National Council plus the 46-seat Council of States.
Things were fine until the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) increased its share of the Federal Assembly in the 2015 federal election and demanded another Federal Council seat. Someone had to go. And that person was Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.
She had been a member of the UDC, but in 2007 she fell out with the party after she replaced the party’s charismatic leader Christoph Blocher on the Federal Council. This led to her being was pushed out of the party.
A Federal Councilor without membership of major party runs against the “magic formula”, so since 2007 the writing had been on the wall. Towards the end of 2015, she resigned, and was replaced by a man: Guy Parmelin. Widmer-Schlumpf was the latest woman to go.
So how did this affect Switzerland’s Global Gender Gap ranking so much?
It all comes down to weighting. The WEF rank looks at the number of women versus men in ministerial positions, in Switzerland’s case the number of Federal Councilors. In the year used for the 2016 ranking, there were 3 women and 4 men, a ratio of 3 to 4 (0.75). By the time of the latest ranking the ratio was 2 women to 5 men (0.40).
An extra woman in the Federal Council would push Switzerland’s ranking to 13th, just behind Germany, but ahead of Denmark and the UK. A Federal Council like the one from 2010 to 2012, when there was a ratio of 4 women to 3 men, would push it into 7th position in this year’s ranking.
A year is a long time in politics. It’s also a long time in Global Gender Gap rankings.
WEF Global Gender Gap 2017 – Switzerland – (in English)