Switzerland on the road to gender equality

Micheline Calmy-Rey became the fourth ever woman in cabinet when she was elected last year Keystone

Switzerland is making real progress in its efforts to promote gender equality, according to a Swiss delegate at the United Nations conference on women's rights.

This content was published on January 18, 2003 - 14:00

But discrimination at work and in the legal system mean that Swiss women are still worse off than some of their European neighbours.

"We mustn't forget that we started with zero in 1971 [when women were given the vote]," Patricia Schulz, director of the Federal Office for Equality and head of the Swiss delegation in New York, told swissinfo.

"If you compare Switzerland with some other European countries we are actually in a better position, but we are still lagging behind Scandinavian countries."

Schulz added that a national plan of action for gender equality, launched in 1999, had yielded "pleasing" results, although not all measures had yet been implemented.

Glaring discrepancies

In Schulz's view, much progress has been made in education: women accounted for 48 per cent of university students in 2001.

However, the labour market needs to be reformed and wage discrepancies - averaging 20 per cent - have to be eliminated, she said.

In politics, too, women are under-represented: Switzerland ranks only 26th in the world when it comes to women in parliament.

"All industrial countries are dealing with the matter of inequality of salaries and so are we. We'll continue our effort to improve the situation."


Switzerland is one of eight countries to have submitted a report to the UN Conference on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

A UN committee is due to issue a list of conclusions and recommendations for Switzerland based on the report.

Schulz said the committee had praised the Swiss delegation for its thorough and honest work in compiling the report.

"They were impressed by the seriousness... and for the honesty with which the delegation presented the problems we have in Switzerland," Schulz said.

"I also think the committee appreciated that the [Swiss] government sent an important delegation to present this report," she added.

swissinfo, Billi Bierling and Samantha Tonkin

Key facts

Women in Switzerland were granted the vote in 1971.
Wage gaps between men and women average 21.2%.
One in five women in Switzerland suffers domestic violence.

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