Women in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden had to wait until 1991 to vote in cantonal elections. Not all Swiss cantons were this slow.
In Switzerland, voting takes place at three layers of government: commune (Gemeinde), canton (Kanton) and federal. Canton is arguably the most important – Switzerland’s 26 cantons are like states.
The first major female-voting breakthrough occurred on 1 February 1959 when the canton of Vaud allowed women to take part in cantonal elections1. On 27 September 1959, Neuchâtel followed. Next were the cantons of Geneva (1960), Basel-City (1966), Basel-Country (1968), Ticino (1969), Valais (1970), Luzern (1970) and Zurich (1970).
On 7 February 1971, 65.7% of male voters across the nation agreed women should be allowed to vote in federal elections, 78 years after New Zealand (the 1st), 53 years after Germany, 27 years after France and 26 after Italy. That same day, the four cantons of Aargau, Fribourg, Schaffhausen and Zug fell into line, giving women there the vote at a cantonal level.
That still left 12 cantons. Women in Glaris and Solothurn only had to wait a few more months. Women in Bern, Thurgau, St. Gallen, Uri, Schwytz, Graubunden, Nidwalden, and Obwalden celebrated in 1972.
That left only two cantons: Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden.
Many years ticked by, and by early 1989 women there could still not vote on cantonal matters. In the 1971 federal vote, few men in either Appenzell Innerrhoden (28.7%) and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (39.9%) supported the idea. Eventually, on 30 April 1989, Appenzell Ausserrhoden decided in favour after a narrow vote.
That left only Appenzell Innerrhoden.
On 27 November 1990, the Federal Tribunal, Switzerland’s highest court, forced the canton’s hand, quite literally – Appenzell Innerrhoden is famous for being only one of two Swiss cantons to still hold open-air assemblies , known as a Landsgemeinde, where votes are decided by counting the number of hands in the air.
The Federal Tribunal argued that Appenzell Innerrhoden breached Switzerland’s federal constitution, which granted universal women’s suffrage in 1971. By 28 April 1991, all Swiss women could vote at cantonal and federal levels.
When Swiss men were asked whether women’s votes should count, not all cantons put their hands up at the same time. First to last they were more than 31 years apart.
A full history of women’s suffrage in Switzerland – (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
1 Basel-City, which comprises three large communes, granted women suffrage in at a commune level in 1957. This was the first step for women’s suffrage in Switzerland, but at the commune rather than cantonal or federal levels.
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