Hundreds of thousands of Swiss women, dressed in purple, swept the streets Friday, June 14 to defend their rights and demand equal pay. “Down with patriarchy,” “My body is mine,” or “Harry Potter would be dead if Hermione did not exist,” could be read on some placards.
Tram traffic jammed in Zurich, cathedral lit up with roses in Lausanne, fist thrown on a skyscraper in Basel… Nearly thirty years after their last historic strike, Swiss women denounced gender-based violence and defended the recognition of domestic tasks . The high point of the mobilization was a march at the end of the day in several cities, including Bern, in front of the seat of the government and Parliament.
Aurelia, a 16-year-old high school student participating in the parade in Geneva, for example, intends to denounce “the hypersexualization of the female body” in society, especially on social networks.
In Berne, the deputies symbolically interrupted their debates for fifteen minutes. Many parliamentarians were wearing purple, as did the Minister of Defense, Viola Amherd. Minister of Police and Justice Simonetta Sommaruga greeted activists at the local train station.
In Lausanne, the mobilization began in the night at the cathedral, where the women rang bells on the forecourt. A bonfire was lit and the religious building illuminated. Five hundred people then blocked a bridge. In many cities, women have come together to sing. And a giant clitoris on a trolley went around Zurich.
Closed crèches, minimal service in schools, some cities – like Geneva – supported the mobilization. While visiting the International Labor Organization, Christine Lagarde, Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund, pinned a pin with the feminist logo of the raised fist on her jacket.
The event, considered “illegal” by the Employers’ Union, was aimed at asking “more time, more money and respect”. It echoed the big Swiss women’s strike which brought together 500,000 participants on June 14, 1991, ten years to the day after the introduction of the principle of gender equality in the Constitution. The women had denounced the lack of concrete measures and the wage inequality. This mobilization led to the entry into force in 1996 of the law on equality at work.
Driven by the #MeToo movement, the new generation’s representatives continue the fight begun by their elders almost thirty years ago, towards a wage equality that is still not achieved. Women thus average about 20% less than men. And on equal terms, including training and seniority, the pay gap is still close to 8%, according to the government.
In 1991, one in seven women mobilized. A figure all the more exceptional as work stoppages are very rare since the introduction in 1937 of the “peace of work”, an agreement signed between employers and unions excluding the use of strikes in favor of bargaining. The idea of resuming the strike was born at the instigation of the unions, who failed to introduce, at the time of the revision of the law on equality, in 2018, the principle of sanctions against companies violating the law of equal pay.
In Switzerland, the recognition of women’s rights has been a long battle. It was not until 1971 that they acquired the right to vote. In recent years, progress has been made, such as the decriminalization of abortion in 2002, and a fourteen-week paid maternity leave in 2005. But paternity leave does not exist and daycare places are limited and costly. These circumstances have been a major handicap for the professional activity of women. The World Economic Forum (WEF) said Friday that “changes have been too slow” in Switzerland, calling on the government and businesses to “remedy this situation.”