This week’s democracy briefing: the link between the recent votes in Greenland and canton Jura; and wrapping up our series on 50 years of women’s suffrage in Switzerland.This content was published on April 9, 2021 - 09:00
Smart paths from autonomy to independence
It’s called “Kalaallit Nunaat” in the national language “Kalaallisut”, and it means the “land of human beings”. It’s Greenland, the biggest island in the world. Last Tuesday, on this island, 41,000 eligible Greenlanders were called to elect new local councils as well as members of the national parliament, Inatsisartut.
On the surface, it was just one of hundreds of smaller elections to be held around the world this year. However, this one had an impact on the whole planet. First, because the world’s biggest island is also one of the most important territories when it comes to climate change, natural resources, and geopolitics. And second, because Greenland offers an example of how democracy can help a former colony transform into a responsible member of the global community, as a future independent country and a United Nations member.
Since 1979, Greenland has defined a path from being a subject of Danish rule to becoming a fully autonomous part of the so-called North Atlantic Alliance (together with the Faroe Islands and Denmark) through participatory and direct democracy. In 1985, it was the first member of the EU ever to leave the bloc (after a referendum), and in 2008 a basic law was adopted to give Greenland a clear, self-determined path towards full independence.
The Greenlandic way shares many similarities with a much smaller but much more populated territory in the heart of Europe, Switzerland. Here, eligible citizens have been and still are instrumental in amending the borders of jurisdictions – by initiative or referendum. The most recent case happened just a few weeks before the Greenland election, when a majority of citizens in the town of Moutier decided to move from canton Bern to canton Jura.
It was an emotional and heavily scrutinised vote, but ultimately it was peaceful, democratic, and a successful way of solving an old issue of affiliation and self-determination. Unfortunately such processes are far from normal around the world. In Catalonia or Scotland, for example, popular votes on independence are unwelcome by central governments. In Western Sahara the people have been promised a say by the United Nations for decades, but without any action. And in Ireland, changes ushered in by Brexit have initiated anew the confrontations between Unionists and Republicans.
- The history of how it was possible to solve a complex territorial and cultural conflict in Switzerland using the tools of modern direct democracy
- From the SWI archives: how Arctic countries like Greenland are developing their autonomous status towards full independence
- From the SWI archives: how the Jura conflict in Switzerland could hold lessons for Catalonia and Scotland
Women, politics and equality, 50 years on
Over the course of spring 2021, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women belatedly getting the vote in Switzerland, we have been publishing a range of articles: from a reportage in canton Appenzell Inner Rhodes, the last holdout against women’s suffrage (women there gained the right to vote in 1990), to an analysis of the representation of women in Swiss politics today (“still a long way to go”), to a look at the city of Bern, where gender inequality has tipped in the opposite direction, with local politics now dominated by women.
Today, we published the final piece in the series: an article which ends by shifting the focus from inward to outward – from what Switzerland has done internally to develop its institutions and politics in a more gender-equal way to what it is now doing to promote such equality around the world. From Libya to Benin, Switzerland has incorporated women’s rights also in its foreign policy, we report.
All’s well that ends well? Not quite: the Swiss women’s strike of 2019, when hundreds of thousands marched to demand more workplace and social equality, didn’t happen for no reason, and Switzerland is still not the paradise of equality it might like to be. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, released last week, also highlighted this: although Switzerland jumped to 10th – largely thanks to a big increase in women voted into Parliament in 2019 elections – means it’s up towards the top of the pile, it’s not perfect.
WEF says a lack of women in leadership positions in business, as well as weak parental leave rights, means Switzerland lags behind frontrunners of gender equality, which are (surprise) found in Scandinavia in Iceland. Does this matter? Those who look more at the economic bottom line, and Switzerland’s top ranking when it comes to everything from innovation to education, might say not. But the Neue Zürcher Zeitung wroteExternal link in an editorial last week that Switzerland is moving towards “mediocrity” in many areas – also in gender equality?
- SWI focus page on the 50th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, summing up the main dates and debates
- “Feminist foreign policyExternal link”: will this define the international politics of the future?
- The WEF’s Global Gender Gap report 2021: Switzerland moves into the top 10
The next democracy series from swissinfo.ch will focus on a more contemporary – but also classic – debate around the freedom of expression. Do we have the right to offend other people? Where does the line between free speech and insult stop? How does freedom of expression differ from country to country, and continent to continent? Are western concerns about gender-neutral language and humour just a diversion from real issues facing the world?