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Protesters call for more women in government

Demonstrators called for the downfall of the "patriarchs" in government Keystone

About 15,000 people took to the streets of the Swiss capital, Bern, on Saturday to protest against the under-representation of women in government.

This content was published on December 13, 2003 - 11:57

The rally was supported by 30 major Swiss women’s organisations, the Social Democratic Party, the Green Party and the trade unions.

On Wednesday, parliament elected two conservative politicians, Christoph Blocher and Hans-Rudolf Merz, to the seven-member cabinet, which now includes only one woman.

Blocher unseated the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, while Merz defeated a female candidate from within his own Radical Party.

The organisers of Saturday's demonstration said a strong signal was needed to renew the fight for equal representation of women and men in politics.

Trade unions and leftwing parties also said they wanted to push for maternity benefits and fair pensions, issues that will come to a nationwide vote next year.

Sibylle Burger-Bono, who is head of Alliance F, Switzerland’s main women’s organisation, called on young women to continue the fight for women’s rights in Switzerland.

Maternity benefits

Blocher - the populist hardliner from the rightwing Swiss People's Party - has come out against statutory maternity benefits.

Aliki Panayides, the vice secretary general of the People's Party, maintains that the party is not against women, arguing that its policies are not determined by a consideration of gender.

"It has nothing to do with being friendly towards women but rather it's a question of taxes, and that's why we are against maternity insurance, which is not necessary these days," she said.

A number of Swiss youth groups have come out against the December 10 cabinet vote and the impact it will have on women.

The Union of Swiss Student Organisations said female political role models were unfairly treated in the election.

It added that the election results were not an encouraging example for women who wish to enter politics.

First casualties

Political analyst, Oscar Mazzoleni, said the election confirms that when competition in politics is at its most intense, women are the first casualties.

He noted that in cantons that have very few seats in the House of Representatives, the proportion of women elected is lower than in cantons that can send more parliamentarians.

"It remains to be seen over the next few months whether the election will prove a major turning point for women in politics," Mazzoleni said.

Several hundred people demonstrated in similar street protests in Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich following Wednesday's election.

swissinfo, Karin Kamp

Key facts

Blocher and Merz were elected on December 10 by parliament to join the seven-member cabinet.
They replaced Ruth Metzler and Kaspar Villiger.
The reshuffle leaves cabinet with only one female representative in government, Micheline Calmy-Rey.
Protesters are demanding there be more women in government.
Women were given the right to vote in 1971.

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