Somewhere in Switzerland on Saturday around 150 men’s rights activists will be gathering at a secret location for the “first international antifeminism meeting”.
Amid plans by feminist activists to hold protests, the venue was changed and the new location kept under wraps until the last minute.
Only those who filled out an application form and paid the SFr55 ($55) registration fee will find out. And around 30 journalists who expressed an interest in attending.
“Even I don’t know where it is being held,” said Ulf Andersson, a member of the Swiss-based antifeminist interest group IGAF (Interessengemeinschaft Antifeminismus) organising the event.
IGAF says the meeting is "an exceptional opportunity to make our concerns known to the public” and a chance to network.
Addressing the day-long conference will be IGAF founder René Kuhn, and speakers from a German gender policy initiative, the Swiss men’s political party, an interest group for divorced men and European and Swiss men’s and father’s rights groups.
Andersson described it as a “very special” and “historic moment”.
“The major goal is not to come to conclusions about anything but mostly to meet like-minded people. As you have seen, there are forces trying to stop us from having this meeting,” Andersson told swissinfo.ch.
News of the meeting was reported in the media and led to a demonstration by 50 feminist activists in Zurich. Graffiti was sprayed on a community hall in Uitikon, canton Zurich, where the meeting was planned. Leaflets have also been handed out for a rally to coincide with the event.
“A lot of people have the wrong impression about what an antifeminist really is,” said Andersson.
“They believe that an antifeminist is a woman-hater. Not at all. An antifeminist is a kind of peacekeeper who wants to return things to normal. As an antifeminist I believe in true equality between a man and a woman.”
In a written statement prepared for Saturday’s meeting, Andersson has drawn up five key beliefs of antifeminists: “opposing the feminist hatred of men, valuing the nuclear family, believing in the child’s rights to both its parents after a divorce or a separation, looking at the individual and not judging people by their gender, and accepting that men and women are different and counting that as assets”.
Anderson founded the Swedish father’s rights group PappaRättsGruppen after being prevented from seeing his daughter for six years after getting divorced from his wife. With support from a father’s rights group his situation has since changed and he is now able to see his 11-year-old occasionally.
But he blames “feminist” social workers for his plight. In his eyes, “feminists have hijacked the word equality” and today, “feminist stands for pure evil”. He cites radical feminist organisations who call for men to be grounded at home after 9pm or bear placards calling for “male slaughter, female supremacy”, as an example.
Risk of discrimination
“A totalitarian ideology like feminism draws particularly strong opposition” in Switzerland, said IGAF president Urs Bleiker, explaining one of the reasons why it was chosen as the location for the international meeting. The organisers are Swiss, he noted, but “the Swiss love of freedom” also was a contributing factor in choosing the location.
While the Swiss Federal Office for Gender Equality is not worried about the event happening within the country’s borders, director Patricia Schulz told swissinfo.ch that she was concerned by “this movement’s denunciation of all women who do not correspond to its limited vision of what constitutes a ‘real woman’. There is a very high risk of discrimination in the ideas of this movement.”
She added that the organisers did not appear to be looking to stimulate debate that could lead to solutions to the real problems faced by many men, rather they “seem particularly to want to place the responsibility for its problems on women who can be described as ‘emancipated’, without realising that there are certainly other causes”.
By holding the meeting in Switzerland, the organisers are capitalising on the “current conservative discourse which is very prevalent, and where parts of the agenda put forward by the antifeminists seem to fit nicely”, commented Sabin Bieri, of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies in Bern.
“Feminist positions today, although diverse, stand for more justice in our societies, including politics and the economy. This does not mean – and has never meant - a reversal of discriminating structures,” said Bieri.
She said one of the most popular examples drawn upon by antifeminists and more mainstream men’s interest groups is the discrimination of fathers in divorce decrees.
“All I can read from the antifeminist position is frustration, possibly rooted in personal experiences. I think it is a very marginal position with no potential for generating initiatives which would be acceptable for average citizens,” she added.
The meeting has been billed as a world first.
It is organised by the antifeminism interest group IGAF (Interessengemeinshaft Antifeminismus). IGAF was established in April 2010 and has around 600 members and supporters.
Among the subjects being addressed are: “Equality is dead, rectifying it is alive”, “The equality balance needs both men and women”, “Why Switzerland has the most hostile family law in the world”, and “Why antifeminism?”.
Speakers represent the IGAF, the IGM interest group for divorced and separated men, men’s rights group Agens e.v., the Swiss men’s party, father’s rights group Mannschafft, as well as author Michaeil Savvakis.
Switzerland climbs equality ladder
Earlier in October, a major report on gender equality ranked Switzerland tenth in the world, up three places from last year.
The Gender Gap Report 2010 by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, put Nordic countries in the first four positions, with Iceland topping the list.
Switzerland is preceded in the rankings by Lesotho and the Philippines.
The study looked at equality issues including salaries, access to education and training and political participation as well as health and life expectancy in 134 countries.
Switzerland was found to have improved as far as women’s involvement in politics is concerned, but still has a wage gap, and women are poorly represented in higher positions in the economy and management.
The information was collected in July, before the Swiss parliament elected a fourth woman to the cabinet, giving it a female majority for the first time.