Women on strike in Switzerland for more equality, fairer pay

Elias Hubbard
June 16, 2019

Back then, NPR reported, the strike committee encouraged women to dangle dustpans and vacuum cleaners "from windows or [place them] on balconies as a sign of solidarity and of proof that they're not being used".

Friday's events allude to protests on June 14, 1991, when hundreds of thousands of Swiss women left their jobs to condemn discrimination, 20 years after Swiss women won the right to vote and a decade after sexual equality became law.

"I love badass women" and "Eliminate the patriarchy" figured among the messages on posters and banners, as women vented their frustration with persistent gender discrimination and wage gaps in the wealthy Alpine nation.

Bühlmann added that although the focus of the trade unions' protest was to highlight discrimination in the workplace, there are many reasons for women to strike, including the "everyday sexism" that prevails across many different aspects of society, and the burden that disproportionately falls on women in the home.

Pram marches, whistle concerts and giant picnics were planned around the country, with the day's events set to culminate in giant demonstrations in several cities.

By morning, 500 people gathered for a massive breakfast celebration, blocking traffic on one of the town's main bridges, according to an AFP photographer. In the city of Basel, an image of a female symbol with a giant raised fist was projected onto a skyscraper. In Bern, parliamentarians meanwhile took a 15-minute break from their discussions to mark the occasion, with numerous MPs and at least one government minister dressed in purple and sporting feminist badges.

Many women feel little real progress has been made since.

The Swiss Federal Statistics office says women on average earned 12% less than men for similar work - the so-called "gender pay gap" - as of 2016, the latest figures available. According to a recent Amnesty International survey, 59% of Swiss women say they have experienced sexual harassment.

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

Organisers have called upon women to snub their jobs and housework for the entire day. In some towns, nurseries are closed, while schools are ensuring only minimum service to allow the mainly women staff and teachers to take part in the day's events.

For those women unable to take a full day, the organisers urged them to at least pack their things and leave by 3:24 pm. "After that, women work for free", said Anne Fritz, the main organiser of the strike and a representative of USS, an umbrella organisation that groups 16 Swiss unions.

This is the first women's exhibition in 28 years in this country. The legislation introduces "more scrutiny on equal pay", the BBC reports, but it "only related to companies with more than 100 employees, a measure that women trade union leaders dismissed as virtually meaningless". It states that differences should be worked out through negotiation rather than strikes.

In Zurich, the financial capital and the country's biggest city, tens of thousands of protesters clogged the streets, blowing whistles and banging pots and pans.

Friday's event echoed a strike in 1991, five years before the Gender Equality Act came into force. Gaining recognition of women's rights has been a drawn-out process in Switzerland, which was one of the last countries in Europe to grant women the right to vote, in 1971.

'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 said. Abortion was legalised in 2002, and 2005 saw the introduction of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.

"The strike has mobilised a sense of solidarity".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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