Reflections on the occasion of 50 years of women's suffrage in Switzerland
by Véronique Goy Veenhuys
Founder of Fondation EQUAL-SALARY
On February 7, 1971, Swiss men voted to amend the Constitution, thus granting Swiss women the same political rights as Swiss men (65.7% yes against 34.2% no). Swiss women can now vote, elect, be elected and sign initiatives and referendums.
A milestone in the history of Swiss women's rights, the result of a long list of unheeded demands, the culmination of the perseverance of committed women and women's associations who demanded the same political rights for women. than those granted to Swiss men.
Each amendment of the Constitution is a major milestone in the history of equality between women and men by bringing legitimacy to the highest level of what is right.
In 1971, through the right to vote, women gained access to the sphere of political power. Women's access to the economic sphere followed with the inclusion of Equality between women and men in the Federal Constitution in 1981 and the Equality Act in 1991, which emphasizes equality in professional life. The prohibition on discrimination applies to hiring, assignment of tasks, working conditions, remuneration, training and development, promotions and dismissal. Sexual harassment at work is also considered to be discrimination.
The latest revision of the Equality Act, which came into force on July 1, 2020, requires all companies with more than 100 employees to carry out a wage analysis.
As with the demonstration in Berne in 1969 which led to the women's vote in 1971, the pressure came from the streets on June 14, 2019 during the 2nd women's strike. Following the strike, women’s representation in the government increased from 32 to 42% for the National Council and from 15 to 26% in the Council of States in autumn 2019 election. These politicians finally tipped the balance by endorsing the reform in favor of equal pay reform.
However, these legislative advances are struggling to have a significant effect on equality and more specifically on equal pay and equal opportunities between women and men in practice.
Salary is the yardstick of recognition in our economic system. Ensuring equal pay means ensuring the fair distribution of income to enable everyone to assume their economic responsibilities. Ensuring equal pay means allowing women to evolve in the economic world in the same way as men do. It is giving them equal importance and a place at the negotiating and decision-making table. It also means recognizing that women have as much influence in our society as men. Ensuring equal pay is therefore the logical development of our society.
More generally, in the world we live in, equality cannot exist without equal pay. Pay equality is the basis, the cornerstone towards equality between women and men in the broadest sense.
Although most employers claim to practice equal pay for women and men, 15 years after the launch of EQUAL-SALARY certification, figures show that there is still a significant pay gap in all countries, of which – for Switzerland - around 40% is due to discrimination. According to OECD data, women were still earning 15.1% less than men in 2018 in Switzerland.
The responsibility for calculating wages lies with employers. Remuneration, which is strongly linked to recognition of work performed, is said to be fair when it is calculated according to objective factors. Otherwise, there is a risk of discrimination, when wages are established randomly or according to subjective criteria.
Objective factors may vary from one company to another. In order to set fair pay, it is essential to recognize them, to determine which objective factors will be taken into account in defining wages and to be able to measure them.