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Women's quotas robustly rejected

Plans for women's quotas in the Swiss parliament and federal authorities have been robustly rejected in today's national vote. A majority of the 26 cantons said no to the plan, which attracted little support from the Swiss people.

Plans for women's quotas in the Swiss parliament and federal authorities have been robustly rejected in today's national vote. A majority of the 26 cantons have said no to the plan, which has attracted little support from the Swiss people.

The people's initiative was expected to fail, having neither backing from the government, nor support from the parliament. Opponents had argued that it would restrict Swiss voters' ability to choose the best candidates, and could lead to male parliamentarians having to give up their seats.

But the scale of the defeat for the pro-quota camp has been remarkable. The proposal received only 17 per cent of the vote nationally, and as little as 7 per cent in canton Appenzell-Innerrhoden.

Currently, women make up less than a quarter of the Swiss legislature, and there are just two women in the seven-member cabinet. Experts say that, without quotas, it will about 50 years to achieve equal numbers of men and women in parliament.

Supporters of quotas for women argued that this is too long to wait. They pointed out that Switzerland already has quota systems - for cantonal representation in parliament and for party participation in government - and there is no reason why there shouldn't be similar rules for women.

Such arguments failed to sway parliament or the government. Before the vote, Ursula Haller of the conservative Swiss People's Party told Swissinfo that women would be better served by other measures to help them participate in politics, such as more day-care centres for children.

But many in the pro-quota camp countered that there is little chance of women's lives being made easier unless women are given the power to push through change.

The catalyst for this vote came in 1993, when parliament rejected a women candidate for a cabinet post in favour of a male colleague.

The decision was criticised as sexist, and a drive to introduce a quota system was launched soon afterwards.

The issue went to a nationwide vote after its supporters collected the 100,000 signatures needed to force a referendum.

swissinfo with agencies

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