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Women's vigil ends on a high note

Gabriela Bader and Sidal Spörri warm themselves outside the women’s vigil caravan in Bern swissinfo.ch

Swiss women campaigning for better recognition of their rights have ended a round-the-clock vigil near the federal parliament in Bern.

This content was published on December 9, 2004 - 11:56

The action began on March 8 – International Women’s Day – and drew to a close a year to the day after the December 10 elections that saw just one woman returned to the cabinet.

Organiser Yvette Barbier says the vigil has been a resounding success and has reopened a debate on the rights of women and their role in society.

More than 1,000 women from across the country took part in the action, sitting out 24-hour shifts in pairs.

Stationed in a small circus caravan in a street parallel to the parliament building, they attracted the attention of the media and passers-by, and kept the issue of women’s rights alive.

“Crazy idea”

At shift changeover on December 1, Barbier told swissinfo that the vigil had started off as “a crazy idea” which had developed into something “impressive”.

“Women have come from all over Switzerland and have kept the vigil going night and day,” she said.

“If you think that more than 1,000 women have participated, if every one of those women talked to ten people, that is thousands of people who have been made aware of this action.”

On a wet Wednesday it was the turn of friends Gabriela Bader and Sancha Spörri to keep the vigil – accompanied by Spörri’s 15-month-old son, Sidal.

Both said they wanted to see women better represented in politics and in the upper levels of management.

It was Bader’s second shift in the caravan. On the first occasion, she and other friends from the Green Party asked around 100 women passers-by to write down their wishes and ideas. These pieces of paper were then attached to balloons and released into the sky above Bern.

This time, Bader said she and Spörri would just see what the day brought.

“My experience from last time is that so much happens around this little island in the middle of the city. Many people come – not only women – and we will just be here with our friends and our children.”

Solidarity

Conceived as a protest against the under-representation of women in government, the vigil also set out to resist changes to the old-age pension system, to demand statutory maternity benefits and to call for an end to discrimination.

During the ten months of the campaign, two separate nationwide votes saw the pension reforms rejected and maternity benefits introduced – a double success for the women’s movement.

Another main theme was solidarity among women in Switzerland and around the world. On December 1 – International Aids Day – this theme took on a particular significance given the number of women affected by the disease.

According to Barbier, one of the best things to come out of the vigil has been the sense of camaraderie among the Swiss women who took part.

“Many came here as individuals, but they left as friends,” she told swissinfo.

And although Friday marks the end of the vigil, Barbier says the campaign will continue.

Over the past ten months, participants and visitors have had the opportunity to write their thoughts in a book kept permanently at the caravan.

These writings will now be collated and published.

swissinfo, Morven McLean in Bern

Key facts

The vigil ran from March 8 to December 10, 2004.
It was based in a caravan in the centre of Bern, close to the federal parliament.
Over 1,000 women from across Switzerland took part.

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In brief

The aim of the vigil was to provide women with a platform to express their views.

The trigger was the cabinet election on December 10, 2003, which saw just one of two women ministers re-elected.

Participants had the chance to write their thoughts and ideas in a book. The book will be passed on to women parliamentarians at the end of the vigil.

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