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Swiss officially mark 50 years of women’s suffrage

Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter (middle), flanked by two pioneers of women's political representation: Hanna Sahlfeld-Singer (left) and Ruth Dreifuss (right), in a photo taken before the official event Keystone / Anthony Anex

An official celebration has been held in the Swiss parliament building to mark 50 years since women gained the right to vote in Switzerland. Tribute has been paid to the pioneers of the women’s movement.

This content was published on September 2, 2021 - 18:51
Keystone-SDA/Federal Department of Justice and Police/SWI swissinfo.ch/ilj

Some 150 people from politics, business, science and civil society attended the event in Bern on Thursday evening - among them two of the three serving women government ministers: Karin Keller-Sutter (justice) and Viola Amherd (defence). Swiss President Guy Parmelin was also present.

Swiss women officially gained the right to vote on a federal level on February 7, 1971, after Swiss men decided in favour of women’s suffrage in a nationwide referendum. The country was one of the last countries in Europe to give women the right to vote. The last Swiss canton resisted women’s suffrage until 1990.

‘A whole democracy’

“February 7, 1971 is the birth of that democracy of which we are justly proud today: a whole democracy,” said Keller-Sutter in her speech.

It was “an irony of history” that it was Swiss-style democracy, at that time was highly developed in comparison to other countries, that had contributed to Switzerland being so late in granting women’s suffrage. Keller-Sutter said.

“In no other country - except Liechtenstein – were was the decision to grant women this fundamental civil right in the hands of men with the right to vote, rather than in the hands of the government or parliament,” she underlined. Keller-Sutter thanked those who had fought tirelessly for change.

Nowadays there are more than 40% women in parliament, continued Keller-Sutter, and women make up a majority of students. But was still work to be done in top management and other political bodies, she cautioned. And there are other challenges too, like combining work and family, and domestic violence.

Pioneers

President Parmelin, opening the celebration, also thanked those who fought for women’s suffrage. The women’s movement helped Switzerland move with the times, he said.

Pioneering parliamentarian Hanna Sahlfeld-Singer is interviewed during the event Keystone / Anthony Anex

Also present were pioneers of women’s political representation, like Ruth Dreifuss, the first women to hold the rotating Swiss presidency (who stood down from the cabinet in 2002), and Hanna Sahlfeld-Singer, one of the first women to be elected to the Swiss parliament in 1971. Young people were also invited.

The event, which was organised by the justice ministry and live streamed, was originally planned for February 4, but was postponed until September 2 due to the pandemic, a statement said.External link

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