Research seeks answer to gender inequalities

One of the research projects will look at how gender equality is cultivated in schools laif/Mischa Keijser

A major national research programme aimed at pinpointing why gender inequality persists in Switzerland has begun.

This content was published on January 25, 2011 - 14:01

The issue will be examined by 21 different research projects across the country, and is due to be completed by the end of 2013.

The launch of the National Research Programme 60 (NRP 60) – “Equality between men and women” – this year coincides with the 40th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in Switzerland, and the 30th anniversary of the article on equality being included in the Swiss constitution.  

“Indeed, it’s a special year, which adds prestige to this undertaking,” noted René Levy of the programme’s coordinating committee.

Men and women still don’t have equal opportunities in the workplace, in education and in family life, despite 25 years of equality policy. The programme aims to find out where government policies are falling short in those three domains.

Levy said the programme’s 21 projects are “relatively representative” and cover the most important questions about equality.


They range from equality within the fields of agriculture and engineering to exploring whether various cantons’ family policy is gender-sensitive. An original list of 119 research paths was whittled down to 21 based on their potential for yielding scientific criteria.

Some fields are lacking, Levy admits, such as an examination of various judicial aspects.

By the programme’s conclusion, he hopes certain problems will become clearer and progress will be made in countering them. But it will not solve problems, he cautions.

The empirical data gathered will be used as a guide for “sustainable” gender policies of the future.

Farinaz Fassa and Chiara Storari, in charge of a project on what schools teach about gender equality, noted that scientific facts were needed in order to have an “objective” view of the situation.

They note that the research process itself will also develop relationships between stakeholders involved in the educational field, remove “blockages” at institutional and individual levels and help in forming policies that can lead to improvements.

“Perceived need”

Yvonne Riaño, of Bern University is among the coordinators of a project on work inequalities related to gender and ethnicity. She said there have been virtually no empirical studies done in this particular field yet in Switzerland.

She said numbers showed that migrant women from non-European countries have less favourable positions in the labour market and work in jobs for which they are overqualified. They tend to be unemployed more than women from EU countries or Swiss women.

“We don’t have an integrated view on how women of different ethnicities do in the labour market. That’s one of the reasons why I think our project was accepted, because this is something new for Switzerland,” she said. 

“In the end we intend to get to policies that address a variety of situations and aren’t fragmented, as they are at the moment.”

“National research programmes are the result of a political process and they emerge because there is a perceived need by some politicians of problems that have to be addressed in society,” she added.

While a previous programme, NRP 35, has also looked at gender inequalities, Riaño noted that through the new programme, politicians were hoping to move beyond the status quo and “develop programmes and policies which can help reduce gender inequality”.

Making gender a research topic

National Research Programmes (NRP) are carried out under the auspices of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The topics are selected by the Swiss government.

Their purpose is to provide scientifically substantiated solutions to problems of national importance.

NRP 60, “Equality between men and women”, will receive SFr8 million ($8.4 million).

It includes interdisciplinary research in sociological, political, economic, psychological and education spheres. The findings will be used to inform the development of a sustainable gender equality policy.

It is divided into three areas: work and organisations; education and careers; and family.

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