Swiss women strike for gender equality

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By Alice Tidey  with Reuters
The women's strike in Lausanne, Switzerland on June 14, 2019
The women's strike in Lausanne, Switzerland on June 14, 2019   -  Copyright  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Women across Switzerland are striking on Friday to denounce slow progress on tackling the gender pay gap and inequalities.

The movement echoes a similar protest held in 1991 in which some 500,000 women took part and which led to the adoption five years later of the Gender Equality Act. The legislation banned workplace discrimination and sexual harassment with the aim of "furthering true equality between women and men".

But 28 years after their first strike, Swiss women continue to denounce the persistently-high gender pay gap under the slogan "Pay, time, respect!"


According to data from the country's Federal Statistics Office, Swiss women earn 19.6% less than their male counterpart. While that is down by nearly a third since the first strike, the discrimination gap — the differences that cannot be explained by rank or role — has actually worsened since 2000.

The International Labour Organisation also found last month that the country is near the bottom of the list when it comes to the wage gap between men and women in senior roles. Only Italy, Kazakhstan and Israel were deemed worse across Europe and Central Asia.

The Women's Strike Zurich Collective, which co-organised Friday's movement, wrote in a manifesto: "We’re striking because women earn less for the same work, are passed over for promotions, are hardly represented at the executive level and because typically female jobs are poorly paid."

614 years

People taking part in the strike started to gather across the country as the clock struck midnight on Friday.

In the municipality of Lausanne, in south-west Switzerland, participants gathered near the cathedral from 23:00 CEST on Thursday to watch a woman usher in the strike by ringing the cathedral's bell, becoming the first ever woman to do so in 614 years.

The strike's logo was also beamed onto Basel's Roche Tower, the country's tallest building.

The day of action was first thought up by activists last year after lawmakers watered down plans to introduce mandatory pay equity checks and limited them instead to companies with over 100 employees.

Switzerland enshrined gender equality in its constitution in 1981, a decade after introducing women's suffrage at the federal level.

However, it wasn't until 1990 that all Swiss women were allowed to vote at the local level when the Supreme Court forced Appenzell Inneehoden to allow women to vote in cantonal elections.

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