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Young Swiss women take first steps in parliament

Evi Allemann, Christa Markwalder Bär and Jasmin Hutter (from left to right) swissinfo.ch

October’s parliamentary elections saw several young women win seats in the House of Representatives.

This content was published on December 19, 2003 - 11:48

Evi Allemann, Jasmin Hutter and Christa Markwalder Bär told swissinfo that they are striving to be accepted in the male-dominated world of politics.

The three women, aged between 25 and 28, started their careers as members of the cantonal governments of Bern and St Gallen before they were voted into the House of Representatives on October 19.

Evi Allemann of the Social Democratic Party, Jasmin Hutter of the Swiss People’s Party and Christa Markwalder Bär of the Radical Party are rare exceptions in the Swiss parliament, which is dominated by men over the age of 55.

The women’s first three-week session proved to be highly eventful as, during its course, Justice Minister Ruth Metzler - one of only two women in the cabinet - was voted out.

The centre-right Christian Democrat was replaced by Christoph Blocher, a hardliner from the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

The cabinet elections on December 10 also altered the balance of power among the four main political parties for the first time since 1959.

“I did not know that I could be so nervous,” said Hutter, recalling the cabinet vote.

Fuss about women

Since the cabinet elections, there has been much debate in Switzerland about the under-representation of women in the Swiss government.

Not only did Metzler lose her seat, but a female candidate from the centre-right Radical Party failed in her bid to fill the vacant seat left by Finance Minister Kaspar Villiger, who is stepping down.

Around 15,000 people protested in the streets of the capital, Bern, last Saturday, calling for the equal representation of men and women in politics.

“I was quite down after the elections. I would have liked to see at least two women in the cabinet, or maybe even three,” admitted Markwalder.

Hutter, however, says she does not understand what all the fuss is about:

“I vote for the person I believe represents my political ideas, but if a woman and a man share the same qualities, I’d definitely vote for the woman.”

But Hutter admitted it was up to the three of them to make sure more women were elected.

“We should find out why women do not necessarily vote for women. I think more women should go to the polls,” she said.

Better treatment

This is not enough for Allemann who argues that it is “absurd” that women are under-represented in the government.

She believes that women should receive better treatment and should be promoted within their parties.

But Hutter argues that preferential treatment is hardly going to help their cause.

"I already feel discriminated when I hear the word 'female promotion'," she protested. “Women do not need to be promoted.”

Public protests and the post-election focus on women in politics have given the three newcomers a hefty dose of political adrenalin, but they say they now want to concentrate on the job in hand.

“After the elections, the media showed more interest in the fact that we are three young women and forgot about our political views,” lamented Allemann.

Both Markwalder and Hutter agree, but all three of them are looking forward to getting down to parliamentary work.

“I am really looking forward to my political work on the commissions,” said Hutter.

swissinfo

In brief

Evi Allemann of the Social Democrats finished her law degree at the University of Bern in 2003. In 1998 she became the youngest member in Bern’s cantonal parliament.

On December 1, the 25-year-old joined the House of Representatives as the youngest parliamentarian.

After finishing her training as a bank clerk, Jasmin Hutter of the Swiss People’s Party moved on to do a degree in marketing.

Three years ago the 25-year-old joined St Gallen’s cantonal parliament and on December 1 she moved into the House of Representatives.

Christa Markwalder Bär of the Radical Party finished her law degree at the University of Bern in 2001.

Between 1999 and 2002 she was a member of the Burgdorf city council and joined Bern’s cantonal parliament in 2002. She became a member of the House of Representatives on December 1.

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