On Friday, June 14th, women in Switzerland began a day of demonstrations against gender inequality. These protests come after 28 years after a similar protest was held where half a million women took to the streets in order to fight for the acceleration of acceptance in 1991. During that time, the demands were simple: inclusion of women in the government, since there were no female ministers and statutory maternity leave. Though now, there have been eight female government ministers in the Swiss office and maternity leave is enshrined in the law, gender equality is far from equal.
Women in Switzerland still earn on average 20% less than men, are under-represented in management positions, and childcare remains are not only expensive but also in short supply. A survey by the International Labour Organisation put Switzerland bottom of the list in pay rates between men and women in senior roles. Swiss women’s pensions are 37% lower than men’s, primarily because women take time out from work to raise their children. The stereotype is much ingrained in society as people do not expect women to be back to work after childbirth, expecting them to stay at home and look after children. As much that is the beauty of motherhood, the decision to come back to work is a choice that should be allowed to made freely and not be met with resistance. Many participants are carrying on the legacy that Swiss women set those years ago—gender justice. It is still sad to believe that we are so much further from it.
A new strike was first suggested last year in response to parliament’s decision to introduce more scrutiny on equal pay. The government’s move only related to companies with more than 100 employees, a measure that women trade union leaders dismissed as virtually meaningless. Since then, women across the country have been mobilizing, using social media to take advantage of the power of the hashtag #Frauenstreik—women’s strike in German—has been trending for days, along with #GrèvedesFemmes in French. Events were staged in many of the main cities on Friday, including Bern, Sion and Lausanne, where women filled the station concourse to sing a feminist hymn.
Thousands of women had already informed their bosses that they will not be at work. Others left at 3:30 p.m., reducing their working day by 20% to symbolize the 20% wage gap. Many men were actively supporting the strike, though they had told to stay in the background, looking after children, and preparing food for the strikers. “If we do not support each other now, who will in the future?”, asks a male protestor. Many were out, demanding solutions for different issues—each bringing their own personal insights into the set. The fact that every Swiss town and village, from urban centre to alpine farming community, has an activity planned for the day, is an indication of widespread impatience with the slow pace of equality.
Though these protests may not bring stark results, Ms Born, a Swiss journalist, who joined a newsroom staffed entirely by men in 1986, is quietly optimistic. “We’ve achieved some good things since 1991,” she points out. “We have maternity leave now.”, “And something else. In 1991 the government and parliament were completely male-dominated. Today, women in politics are completely normal here. And that phrase ‘the first Swiss woman ever to’… we used to hear it a lot. Now we hardly do.”