Swiss women protest for equality

20 Jun 19

Women across Switzerland have resorted to strikes to demand equality in a move that echoes a famous event in 1991.

Hundreds of thousands of women across the country protested on Friday against the country’s poor record on gender equality.

The SGB labour union federation estimated 100,000 people joined the action in which women blocked streets in Zurich and wielded signs that included one which read “Men, go do the ironing”, reported Reuters.

Switzerland has a high quality of life but has fallen behind other developed economies in terms of female pay and workplace gender equality.

Women still earn less than men and say they have their competence routinely questioned while experiencing condescension at work.

According to government data, Swiss women earn roughly 20% less than men and the discrimination gap – differences that cannot be explained by rank or role – has widened since 2000.

Switzerland was ranked 34th for economic participation and opportunity and 44th for wage equality in a 2018 study of 149 countries by the World Economic Forum.

Organisers of Friday’s action said it sought to draw attention to low wages, violence against women, the need for a fairer representation in positions of power, and demands for family policies that are more equitable.

The first woman to lead the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, joined in the demonstrations while at an event in Geneva.

“At this point in time if I were true to my colours I would actually turn my back to you and express in that way the fact that I am actually on strike – but you might be disappointed,” she told reporters.

The strike by Swiss women echoed a protest in 1991, five years before a Gender Equality Act came into force in the country banning workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

During a sit-in at the heart of Zurich’s financial district, women blocked trams and gathered outside schools, hospitals and across cities with purple balloons and banners to demand equality.

  • Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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