On 7 February 1971, Swiss women were granted the right to vote after a referendum on the subject. This weekend marks the 50-year anniversary.
An early notable event in the fight for women’s suffrage in Switzerland was a demand to have the right included in a revision of Zurich’s cantonal constitution in 1863. However the demand came to nothing, according to parlament.ch. Women in Zurich had to wait until 1970, more than 100 years, to vote at a cantonal level.
In between, a federal referendum in 1959 to grant Swiss women the vote at a federal level, in which only men voted, failed. 67% rejected it. Only the cantons of Geneva (60%), Neuchâtel (52%) and Vaud (51%) had majorities in favour.
To pass, a Swiss referendum needs a majority of voters nationally to favour it and majorities in a majority of cantons to vote in favour of it, something known as a double majority.
On 7 February 1971, in another federal referendum, 66%, all men, voted to grant women the right to vote in federal elections.
Of the 25 cantons in 1971, 17 had majorities in favour of the move and 8 had majorities against it. Cantons with majorities against it were Uri, Schywtz, Obwalden, Glaris, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden – Jura, Switzerland’s 26th canton was not created until 1979. Before that it was part of the canton of Bern.
The cantons most strongly in favour of women’s suffrage in the 1971 vote were Geneva (91%), Vaud (84%), Neuchâtel (82%), Basel-City (82%) and Basel-Landschaft (80%) – the first three had favoured it in 1959. The cantons with the lowest support were Appenzell Ausserrhoden (29%), Uri (36%) and Appenzell Innerrhoden (40%).
For some Swiss women the success of the 1971 federal referendum was only the beginning. Women in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden had to wait until 1991 to vote in cantonal elections after the canton was forced by the Federal Tribunal, Switzerland’s highest court, to grant women suffrage.
The first canton to allow women’s suffrage at a cantonal level was Vaud in 1959. Other cantons followed: Neuchâtel (1959), Geneva (1960), Basel-City (1966), Basel-Landschaft (1968), Ticino (1969), Valais (1970), Luzern (1970) and Zurich (1970).
The first nation to introduce women’s suffrage was New Zealand, where the right was granted on 19 September 1893.