Switzerland campaigns for equal pay at the UN

In Switzerland, women earn on average 18.1% less than their male counterparts Keystone

Women’s economic empowerment is the focus of this year’s session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) that is currently taking place in New York. Switzerland is putting special emphasis on the issue of equal pay. 

This content was published on March 20, 2017 - 11:11
Rita Emch, New York, swissinfo

Despite progress made, Switzerland still has some way to go before it men and women are paid equally. As of today, all countries bar none have a gender pay gap. 

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), women earn 23% less than men worldwide. In Switzerland, women earn on average 18.1% less than their male counterparts. 

"This disparity is detrimental not just to women and their families but to society as a whole", the Swiss foreign ministry wrote ahead of the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women

The Swiss delegation is led by Benno Bättig, secretary general of the foreign ministry and Sylvie Durrer, director of the Federal Office for Gender Equality. Switzerland, together with Iceland and South Africa launched the Global Equal Pay Coalition, which seeks to eliminate wage inequality between men and women by 2030. They were supported by other countries such as Australia, Belgium, Germany, United Kingdom and New Zealand. 

"The fight for economic empowerment of women and against wage inequality will benefit the whole economy. It pays to invest in equality, as numerous studies have shown. It is in our very own interest to create better frameworks that allow women to participate in the economic life," Bättig told swissinfo.ch. 

"There are a lot of countries where women are still more or less systematically excluded from economic, social and cultural life. It is a fact that women earn less than men across all regions, countries and sectors. The reasons are complex and we need to find the right answers to this complexity, there is no one solution that fits all," he said. 

Multilevel implementation

 Women’s economic empowerment is a core component of Switzerland’s foreign policy and a key domestic policy concern. 

“Switzerland's goal is being as coherent as possible regarding these issues,” said Bättig. “That's why we make sure that our engagement on the international level is implemented on the national level, too. And our domestic experiences can be used to find answers and approaches on the international level."

 Switzerland aims to get the private sector to assume more responsibility and drive the goals and measures of the CSW. To achieve this the delegation has roped in Beth Krasna as a member. She has worked as a CEO and board member for various companies and institutions. 

Unpaid domestic work

 During the CSW session, Switzerland will also talk about the need for unpaid care and domestic work to be better recognised and valued. Kresna wants men to pull their weight. 

The traditional division of roles, with male breadwinners in full-time employment and women doing the housework, looking after children and working part-time or not at all, is still prevalent in the country: 80% of mothers in Switzerland still work part time, with half of these working under 50%.

 One problem that keeps mothers at home is the scarcity of daycare places. There has however, been some improvement in this regard: According to Sylvie Durrer, the government has helped create over 54,000 daycare places since 2003. 

Swiss strengths

 While addressing the plenary meeting of the CSW session, Sylvie Durrer said that Switzerland has made progress with regards to women's emancipation and economic empowerment but needs to do more. 

She recalled that gender equality is part of the current Swiss legislative programme and sustainable development strategy. Examples of strategies include an agreement between the government and employee associations to conduct equal pay controls within the federal administration. This will be done with the aid of a tool called Logib, which is available in several languages and can be downloaded anonymously and free of charge. 

"Logib offers companies with more than 50 employees a pretty simple way to find out whether their equal pay policy is being respected," said Durrer. 

Public sector initiatives

 On a legislative level, Durrer mentioned a bill proposed by the government that requires women to make up at least 30% of members on the board of directors and 20% on the management board of companies listed on the stock exchange. This bill will be discussed in parliament soon along with one on compulsory pay check analysis for companies with more than 50 employees. 

Durrer also pointed to the Federal Act on Public Procurement which allows for control of salary equality in public projects. This along with Logib were two Swiss measures that had generated interest among the international community. 

As a further step towards equal pay, Durrer mentioned the Charter for "Equal Pay in the Public Sector" launched last September, which has so far been signed by the federal government, 10 cantons, and 20 cities.

 "We don't only want to see a stronger and exemplary engagement of the public sector, but also the private one," she underlined. "It's primarily the task of the CEO to make sure there are no problems in this regard in his or her company." 

"There is something fundamental we need to be aware of, and the awareness is growing: It is not equality that costs, but the lack of equality. Lacking equality does not only entail costs for individuals, but families, and society as a whole, in the medium and the long term. And yes, it does take long, too long for the necessary awareness to arise, but I do have the impression that something is really moving now and developing," she said. 

According to her, the CSW session is a good opportunity to see where Switzerland stands in comparison to other countries and exchange best practices. 

UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 

 The CSW is the United Nations’ central body responsible for improving gender equality. The official delegations at this year’s CSW session, which runs until 24 March, will be joined by over 8,000 representatives from NGOs. The session will end with a set of agreed conclusions. 

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Swiss performance

According to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) wage inequality between men and women in the private sector in Switzerland is continuing to decline gradually. In 2010, women earned on average 23.6% less than men. In 2014, this figure had fallen to 19.5%. 

In the public sector overall (confederation, cantons and communes) the wage gap between men and women was a bit smaller: In 2014 women earned on average 16.6% less than men compared to 16.5% in 2012. 

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 International Gender Champions (IGC)

The initiative which started in Geneva in 2015, will launch a New York Chapter on Monday. The event at UN Headquarters is organized by the Swiss UN Mission together with Women@TheTable. 

International Gender Champions is a leadership network that brings together female and male decision-makers to break down gender barriers on a practical level. Since 2015, the initiative has gained the support of the highest officials of international organizations and UN agencies, of Permanent Representatives as well as of civil society.

 One of the global leaders to join the initiative is UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. 

"I encourage other senior leaders to be part of this campaign for equality. (...) "In a male dominated world, the empowerment of women must be a key priority. (...) Women’s rights are human rights – and attacks on women are attacks on all of us. (...) Our world needs more women leaders. And our world needs more men standing up for gender equality,” he said at the CSW session.

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