Swiss women weather slowdown better than men

Women are prepared to take on jobs with lower salaries Keystone

Women workers in Switzerland have been less affected by the economic downturn than their male counterparts.

This content was published on March 8, 2003 minutes

As the world marks International Women's Day, attention is focusing on the pay differences between men and women, and the absence of women in top-level jobs.

Latest figures show that the number of unemployed men is on the rise, whereas more and more women are taking up paid employment.

According to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) the jobless rate among men has risen by 50 per cent, or 25,000, in the past 12 months.

The unemployment rate for women has risen by 40 per cent in the same period, but the number of women going back to work has increased by 26,000.

The reason is because the industries most affected by the economic downturn are dominated by men.

Seco found that more than 70 per cent of working women are employed in the social services sector or work as secretaries, teachers or shop assistants.

Surviving the downturn

Many of these jobs are badly paid, but they tend not to be cut during periods of weak economic activity.

The downside for women, according to the Federal Statistics Office, is that female employees in Switzerland still earn far less than their male counterparts.

The wage differential can be as much as 40 per cent, and women remain largely excluded from the upper echelons of firms.

A big problem for women wanting to climb the corporate ladder is the acute shortage of nursery and crèche places in Switzerland, effectively forcing them choose between a career and a family.

Christine Filtner of the public sector union is hopeful that better childcare is imminent. "The situation is slightly changing," she told swissinfo. "The government has promised to invest several million francs in childcare," she added.

Poor pensions

Women also account for the majority of part-time workers - partly because of childcare problems - and consequently often lack adequate pension provisions.

All these drawbacks, say experts, are contributing to a falling birthrate. "As long as paid and unpaid work is not distributed better, more and more women will decide against having children," said Filtner.

New models

Unpaid work was the subject of a recent campaign by the Federal Office for Equality, dubbed "Fairplay at home".

Claudia Honegger, professor of sociology at Bern University, believes that part-time work is a key issue in the equality process. "We have to change our thinking and our structures," she told swissinfo.

"There are fewer and fewer jobs around. We have to think about how we are going to distribute them and whether only few people should share these jobs," she added.

But there is one thing Honegger is absolutely convinced about. "There will always be a power struggle between the sexes."

swissinfo, Elvira Wiegers (translation: Billi Bierling)

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