Alliance F, the Swiss Association of Women's Groups, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It will award a prize to the company which has done the most for employees who have to balance their work and family responsibilities.
Christine Davatz, a leading Alliance F activist, said that the company which won the SFr10.000 prize, which will be awarded in September, would have to show that it did more than create short-term solutions to the needs of employees. It would need to have worked the right flexible approach into its permanent structures.
Sibylle Burger-Bono, a lawyer who is the president of Alliance F, said the movement was proud of its achievements. She singled out 1971, the year when Swiss women finally got the vote in federal elections, as the greatest success.
However, she said that there was no room for complacency, pointing out that it had taken until 1990 for the last Swiss canton to grant women the vote at the local level. She said she found it hard to explain why it had taken Switzerland so long to enfranchise women, but suggested economic prosperity during the 20th century had ironically held back the cause of women's rights, by allowing families to live on a single salary - that of the husband.
She said that this had kept women in the home, and prevented them from entering political life until much later than in other European countries. She also noted that it was not until the 1980s that the Swiss constitution expressly stated that women and men were equal.
Both Burger-Bono and Davatz said that two major priorities of the movement today were the pursuit of full political parity, in a country where only just over 20 per cent of members of parliament are women, and the struggle for equal economic rights. Davatz cited the lack of maternity insurance, and the fact that children start school only at the age of 7, as major factors holding back women's careers.
However, Davatz also said the women's movement needed to recognise the diverse range of choices women may want to make. She said women's groups had often been overly focused on career women and helping them balance their family and professional life.
She said the movement should pay greater attention to the needs of women in lower-paid, part-time jobs, and those who actively chose to stay at home to bring up children.
Alliance F has also published a historical study of the Swiss women's movement to celebrate its anniversary. The author, Silke Redolfi, said her most surprising finding was how politically active Swiss women were at the start of the 20th century, despite the fact that they were excluded from formal politics.
by Jonathan Fowler