Recently, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Max Beeler, a man who challenged Switzerland on gender based discrimination related to widowers pension payments.
Under current rules widows receive pension payments related to their children for their entire life. Widowers on the other hand receive them only until their children reach the age of 18.
Mr. Beeler lost his wife in an accident in 1994 and stopped receiving pension payments when his youngest child reached 18. If he had been the children’s mother he would have continued to receive the payments.
He argued his case with the Swiss government but failed to achieve equality of treatment. The government said that the presumption that husbands should financially provide for their wives was still valid, particularly when they have children. Based on this it made sense to continue to discriminate between widows and widowers. In their view, the difference in treatment was based not on gender stereotyping but on social reality.
In response to this decision Mr. Beeler decided to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. On 11 October 2022, the court decided in his favour.
According to the court, between 1997 and 2010, the applicant had been in receipt of the widower’s pension and had organised the key aspects of his family life, at least partially, on the basis of the existence of the pension. The delicate financial situation in which he had found himself at the age of 57, in view of the loss of the pension and his difficulties in returning to an employment market from which he had been absent for 16 years, was the consequence of the decision he had made years earlier in the interests of his family, supported from 1997 onwards by receipt of the widower’s pension. On this basis the court held that Switzerland had acted in contravention of the principles of prohibition of discrimination (Article 14) and the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.
In addition, the court said that the Swiss government had not shown that there were very strong reasons or “particularly weighty and convincing reasons” justifying the difference in treatment on
grounds of sex. In the Court’s view, the Government could not rely on the presumption that the husband supported the wife financially (the “male breadwinner” concept) in order to justify a difference in treatment that put widowers at a disadvantage in relation to widows. It found that the legislation in question contributed rather to perpetuating prejudices and stereotypes regarding the nature or role of women in society and was disadvantageous both to women’s careers and to men’s family life.
Switzerland must now reimburse Mr. Beeler’s costs and act to eliminate gender discrimination between widows and widowers.
ECHR press release (in English)
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M j oaten says
I often don’t agree with this court decision but totally Agree with this. L