In developed nations like Switzerland much progress has been made on women’s rights. However, violence and harassment against women remains high and is one of the reasons why women are striking on 14 June 2019.
According to a survey by Amnesty International, 22% of women 16 or over in Switzerland have been subjected to non-consensual sexual relations and 59% to sexual harassment in the form of unwanted touching, close physical contact or kissing.
Based on a legal analysis, Amnesty International found Switzerland’s criminal law on attacks on sexual integrity wanting. It says Swiss law in this area falls short of international human rights norms and must be adapted. In particular, it calls for a consent- rather than force-based definition of rape.
Over the last 10 years, an average of 25 people have been killed annually as a result of domestic violence in Switzerland. 75% of the victims were women or girls. Women are more likely than men to be victims of other more prevalent forms of domestic violence too.
Against this dark background of violence and harassment, women in Switzerland have made progress.
Women are now able to vote at all levels of government, something that was not possible across all of Switzerland until 1991 when the canton of Appenzell-Innerrhoden was forced by the Federal Tribunal, Switzerland’s supreme court, to allow women to vote at a cantonal level. Before that women in other cantons were granted the right to vote, first in the canton of Vaud in 1959, and then eventually at a federal level in 1971.
Over time, women have also become more prominent in Switzerland’s government. From 2010 to 2012 a majority (4 of 7) of the Federal Council, Switzerland’s executive, were women. Today, three of the seven are women and the percentage of women in Switzerland’s parliament has risen to 31.7%.
Other areas of progress include declining pay inequality. A study by recruitment firm Korn Ferry shows how Switzerland’s gender pay gap has fallen to 2% when compared on a job-for-job basis. There are still fewer women in senior positions, something behind the headline 12% median pay difference, however it will take time to close this gap. Among 45-54 year olds, an age band containing many people in senior positions, far more men (20%) are tertiary qualified than women (13%), an echo of the past. Among those aged 25-34, an age band containing potential future senior managers, more women (54%) hold tertiary qualifications than men (49%). In time this will probably translate into more women in senior roles, although the subjects women choose to study might disadvantage them – for example, women make up only 6% of those studying technology and engineering, hotly demanded qualifications that are more likely to lead to the board room.
Women who choose to have children with a man who is unprepared to stay at home to look after the children or to evenly share the domestic workload, continue to face significant practical career challenges. In time more men might consider foregoing a career to raise their children, allowing their partners to focus on rising to senior positions, roles that are rarely compatible with raising a family. This will become more likely if men feel secure in such roles and feel they won’t be judged negatively by society or disadvantaged in the marriage market for choosing this path.
While progress has been made in some areas for women in Switzerland, there is still work to be done, particularly in the area of violence and harassment.
The Amnesty International survey questioned 4,495 women and young girls 16 and over living in Switzerland between 26 March and 15 April 2019.