Viola Amherd, one of two new women joining Switzerland’s seven-member executive team on 1 January 2019, will head the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS), a position focused mainly on military matters.
This will be the first time the position has been held by a woman, according to RTS.
Amherd (on the left below), a lawyer from Brigue-Glis in Valais, is a member of the PDC (CVP) party.
There are currently very few women in the Swiss military compared to some other european countries. In 2017, less than 1% of Swiss military personal were women. The percentages of women in the armed forces are significantly higher in Sweden (16%), Germany (12%), France (15%) and Norway (12%).
Low military participation by women in Switzerland is partly due to Switzerland’s system of conscription of men but not women. Men who are not fit for service must pay a percentage of their income in exemption tax, so the incentive to be fit is high. While for women, participation is voluntary with no sanction for not joining up.
Most Swiss women are opposed to gender neutral conscription, according to a survey in 2015 in which 74% of women said they were against obligatory military service.
In 2016, conscription of both women and men began in Norway, where four of the last five defence ministers have been women. Last year the Swiss government said it would examine the Norwegian model.