Women's suffrage in Switzerland
The right to vote for women in Switzerland ( voting and election rights ) was introduced by a federal referendum on February 7, 1971. Women's suffrage formally came into effect on March 16, 1971. Switzerland was thus one of the last European countries to grant its female population full civil rights, but it was the first country in which this was done through a referendum (of the male part of the population).
However, another 20 years passed before women's suffrage was introduced in all cantons : On November 27, 1990, the federal court ruled a lawsuit by women from the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden , thereby confirming the unconstitutionality of the Innerrhod canton constitution on this point. Appenzell Innerrhoden was the last canton to introduce the right to vote for women at cantonal level, contrary to a majority vote for men in the rural community on April 29, 1990.
The main reason for the comparatively late implementation lies in the Swiss political system . In the case of drafts relating to the constitution, the people who are entitled to vote together with the cantons decide. In order to be able to introduce the right to vote at the various levels, a majority of the men entitled to vote was required. At the national level also was cantons necessary, so the majority of consenting cantons. Another obstacle was the fact that in the Federal Constitution (BV) of 1848 the right to vote was often linked to active military service. In many cantons, anyone who did not comply with Art. 18 BV “Every Swiss is liable for military service” was excluded from active citizenship.
18th and 19th centuries: First women's organizations
The French Revolution of 1789 was generally seen as the beginning of the women's rights movement, including in Switzerland. In the first federal constitution of 1848, legal equality was declared: « All Swiss are equal before the law. In Switzerland there are no subjects, no privileges of place, birth, family or persons. “Women were not mentioned, neither explicitly included nor excluded in this article of equality. In the legislation, however, it emerged that women were made subject to men.
In the years from 1860 to 1874, Swiss women organized themselves into the Swiss women 's movement for the first time . They demanded civil and political equality for the planned first revision of the federal constitution. In 1874, the first revision of the federal constitution was approved by the electorate. Although there were major discussions for and against the political rights of women beforehand, the new constitution did not include any women.
In 1886, 139 women, led by suffragette Marie Goegg-Pouchoulin, submitted their first petition to parliament. This action attracted so much attention that at the beginning of the following year the women's demands found their way into a daily newspaper for the first time. In her article Heretical New Years Thoughts of a Woman in the Züricher Post , Meta von Salis drew attention to herself and the demands of women. In addition to the lack of political and civil rights, she criticized the existing "inequality before the judge". In the same year, Emilie Kempin-Spyri , the first Swiss lawyer, demanded admission to the legal profession and failed before the federal court .
During 1894, Meta von Salis toured the country and gave lectures in all major cities on the subject of “Women's suffrage and the choice of women”. Her presentations were poorly attended and whistled in some places, but she did not let that discourage her. In the same year the first international women's exhibition took place in Chicago , which was supposed to inform about the position of women in different countries.
Two years later, in 1896, the First National Women's Congress was organized in Geneva . For the first time women were taken seriously as an influential group, and several male speakers called on them to «be allies of men and not their enemies» - and please hold back a little with their demands. As a result of this congress, the first parliamentary commission with the aim of examining the « women's question » was established.
In 1897 Carl Hilty wrote his essay on women's suffrage:
«Freedom consists essentially in participating in legislation; anything else is a grant of rights based on the goodwill of a third party and therefore a very dubious achievement. So, for our part, we consider women's suffrage as the practical core of the women's question. "
1900–1959: advances and resistance
At the turn of the century, women organized themselves across the country and formed various women's associations for and against women's suffrage. The two most important were the Federation of Swiss Women's Associations (BSF) under the leadership of Helene von Mülinen and the Swiss Association for Women's Suffrage (SVF).
In 1905 the right to vote for women was also introduced in the Protestant Reformed Church of the Canton of Zurich, and in 1909 in the Protestant canton of Vaud the entire church right to vote for women.
During the First World War , the movement stalled because more important problems were in the foreground. Among other things, the women's associations provided all social welfare during the war, as Switzerland did not yet have any social insurance at that time .
In the national strike of 1918, women's suffrage was the second of nine demands. In December, two first attempts for women's suffrage at the federal level were made by the National Councilors Herman Greulich (SP) and Emil Göttisheim (FDP). In two motions , the Federal Council was asked to “ submit a report and motion on the constitutional granting of the same voting rights and the same eligibility to Swiss citizens as Swiss citizens”.
Six months later, in June 1919, 158 women's associations submitted a petition to give the two motions more weight. As a result, the Greulich and Göttisheim motions were accepted by the National Council and transferred to the Federal Council for execution. However, the responsible Federal Councilor Heinrich Häberlin (FDP) postponed the treatment because of "more urgent problems". 15 years later, in 1934, Häberlin handed the unfinished business over to his successor with the note: " The material for women's suffrage is in the middle drawer on the right of your desk ".
Between 1919 and 1921, votes were taken in several cantons to introduce women's suffrage at cantonal level. They were rejected by large majorities everywhere. The Second National Women's Congress in Bern in 1921 was uneventful. For once, the focus was not on women's suffrage, but on employment and gainful employment.
In 1923 a group of Bernese women filed a constitutional complaint . They wanted to “exercise their right to vote in municipal, cantonal and federal affairs”, but were refused by the Federal Supreme Court on the basis of customary law .
Five years later, in 1928, Léonard Jenni turned to the Federal Council with a petition, pointing out that the term “voter citizen” in the German language included people of both sexes. The application was rejected on the following grounds:
“If you now claim that the term should also include Swiss women, you are exceeding the limits of permissible interpretation and thereby committing an act that contradicts the meaning of the constitution. [...] The restriction of voting rights to male Swiss citizens is a fundamental principle of federal public law. "
In the summer of the same year, the Swiss Exhibition for Women's Work (SAFFA) took place. A memorable car drove along in the procession: a snail called "Frauenstimmrecht". The organizers were heavily criticized for the snail, and some critics even saw it as a sign of the political immaturity of women.
The SVF launched a new petition for women's suffrage in 1929 and this time achieved a record number of signatures, which even exceeded the number of signatures required for a popular initiative : 170,397 signatures by women and 78,840 signatures by men. The Catholic Women's Association explicitly distanced itself from the demands of the other women's associations. Other opposing organizations also reacted, and in 1931 the Swiss League took a stand against the political right to vote for women with a petition to the Federal Council "against the politicization of Swiss women". The women and men of the league, especially Emma Rufer , wrote to the Federal Council and Parliament again and again, pleading with them to let go of the topic:
«The theory of political equality between the sexes is an idea imported from abroad. At the head of the women's suffrage movement in Switzerland is now an originally foreign woman.
We believe that only native Swiss women can actually have the right insight into these important matters; So people who are very familiar with the nature of our democracy and our people. "
During the 1930s and early 1940s, efforts to gain women's suffrage were once again overshadowed by international events such as the Great Depression and World War II . Several times during these years women were called upon to «protect democracy», to which the women's organizations advocating the right to vote replied that for this they would first have to have democratic rights. Towards the end of the Second World War the question came up again, as especially middle-class women demanded their democratic rights in return for their service in the military women's service . Even during the war was action committee against woman suffrage established:
"We see the participation of women in party and politics as a danger for our families and for the unity of women among themselves, which could have an unfavorable effect especially in the very critical time of the transition from war to peace."
In 1944, National Councilor Emil Oprecht demanded the introduction of women's suffrage in a postulate because important women's political issues were on the political agenda: old-age and survivors ' insurance , maternity insurance and family protection . The postulate was supported by the BSF with an application dated February 6, 1945 on behalf of 38 women's associations. The Swiss non-profit women's association did not comment on the question, but the Swiss Catholic Women's Association left the conservative line of the Catholic Church for the first time and gave its members the right to vote. In 1945 the Swiss Action Committee for Women's Suffrage was founded as an opinion-forming instrument. The third National Women's Congress of 1946 brought no new progress.
In 1948, celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Federal Constitution were held across the country and “Switzerland, a nation of brothers” was celebrated. The women's associations declared the motto to be a “people of brothers without sisters” and symbolically presented the Federal Council with a map of Europe with a black spot in the middle. At that time, all European countries except Switzerland and Liechtenstein had introduced women's suffrage . Like the SAFFA snail before it, this symbolic card was interpreted by critics as a sign of the political immaturity of women.
In 1950 the Federal Council submitted a report to the Federal Assembly on the procedure to be followed for the introduction of women's suffrage. In 1951, the Swiss Women's Circle, headed by Dora Wipf , turned against women's suffrage with a letter to the Federal Council:
«So we believe that we can claim with a clear conscience that we represent the majority of Swiss women when we ask you to consider the question of whether, in today's world, when women are heavily burdened with duties of all kinds, they are Can still be expected to take on other large groups of duties. [...] We do not believe that our country needs politicizing women, but mothers, physical and spiritual mothers who help to overcome hatred and distrust. We generally take the position that the introduction should be rejected at all. "
A year later, in 1952, Antoinette Quinche , President of the “Swiss Action Committee for Women's Suffrage”, and 1,414 fellow campaigners asked their communities to be entered in the electoral register . With the argument that the respective cantonal constitutions would not explicitly exclude women from the right to vote, they went with their claim before the federal court. As in 1923, they were rejected on the basis of " customary law ".
In 1957, a referendum was held to make civil protection service mandatory for all Swiss women. A scandal occurred during the vote: The women of the Wallis community of Unterbäch went to vote - supported by the local council. The municipal council stated that according to the constitution, the municipalities are legally responsible for drawing up the electoral register. Community President and Grand Councilor Paul Zenhäusern and the Valais National Councilor Peter von Roten were the initiators of the women's vote. 33 of the 84 potentially voting female sub-subjects participated in this; Katharina Zenhäusern , wife of the mayor of Unterbäch, was the first Swiss woman ever to put a voting card in a Swiss ballot box. The women's votes, which were collected in a separate urn (the men's votes remained so valid), had to be canceled, as women's participation at that time had no legal basis. Nevertheless, this first federal vote in which women took part wrote Swiss history because it provided an important impetus for the later official introduction of women's suffrage.
At the same vote on the civil protection duty of women (1957), the municipality of Niederdorf BL also had the women vote on a consultative basis, after the municipal council, after a tough struggle, followed the suggestion of the mayor Willy Buser 3-2. Thanks to the village archivist Paul Roth, there is now a small documentary about it.
Also in 1957, Unterbäch was the first municipality in Switzerland to introduce municipal voting rights for women - despite a ban by the Valais government council .
After the canton of Basel-Stadt had authorized the three civil parishes to introduce women's suffrage in 1957, the civil parish of Riehen was the first in Switzerland to introduce women's suffrage on June 26, 1958. In the same year, Gertrud Späth-Schweizer was elected to the Citizens' Council, making it the first Swiss woman to be elected to a political body.
In 1958, the Federal Parliament voted for the first time to hold a referendum on the introduction of women's suffrage in federal affairs; the Federal Council's motion was accepted in the National Council with 96:43 votes and in the Council of States with 25:12 votes.
In the same year, on the one hand, the second Swiss exhibition on women's work SAFFA took place, on the other hand, the controversial book Women in the Playpen by Iris von Roten was published . Various sides saw the reason for the failure of the 1959 vote in this publication. After the French-speaking and German-speaking sections of the Catholic women's associations had spoken out in favor of women's suffrage, the SKF issued the yes slogan for the planned vote and propagated women's suffrage in Catholic organizations.
Shortly before the vote, a new opposing organization was formed, the Swiss Action Committee against the draft constitution on the introduction of women's suffrage in the federal government , which argued:
"With the mere copying of foreign electoral rights, the bill disregards the peculiarities of our direct referendum democracy, in which the voter not only votes, but has to constantly decide on often very difficult issues."
Federal referendum 1959
On February 1, 1959, the first referendum on the federal woman suffrage failed with a turnout clearly on folk of 67 per cent (33 per cent: 67 per cent) and the cantons (3: 16 + 6/2 cantons). Protest actions and women's strikes across Switzerland were the result. Only in the French cantons of Vaud , Neuchâtel and Geneva did a majority vote in favor of women's suffrage.
|Canton||Yes (%)||No (%)||Participation (%)|
However, the advocates were able to record their first successes at the cantonal level: On February 1, 1959, the canton of Vaud was the first to adopt the right to vote for women. This was followed by the cantons of Neuchâtel (September 27, 1959) and Geneva (March 6, 1960) as well as Basel-Stadt (June 26, 1966) and Basel-Landschaft (June 23, 1968) as the first cantons in German-speaking Switzerland . Also before the introduction of federal women's suffrage, women in the cantons of Ticino (October 19, 1969), Valais (April 12, 1970), Lucerne (October 25, 1970) and Zurich (November 15, 1970) were granted voting rights granted at cantonal level.
1959–1971: final phase
After the lost vote in 1959, the Federation of Swiss Women against Women's Suffrage was founded. The association argued that women, because of their biological diversity, were disadvantaged by their political and legal equality. In the course of 1965 there were several parliamentary motions for the introduction of women's suffrage at the federal level. The legal requirements for Switzerland's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights had to be created. Nevertheless, the Federal Council acted hesitantly.
In the years that followed, motions were repeatedly put to the Federal Council. Then the youth riots of 1968 reached Switzerland and the Swiss women's movement . Young feminists confronted themselves, staging protests and demonstrations across the country. Since the Swiss Association for Women's Suffrage was not radical enough for them - they described it as "cozy" - they founded the Women's Liberation Movement (FBB), a radical feminist association of young women.
«The Swiss women gathered here are demanding full voting rights at the federal and cantonal level and in the municipalities. The Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms may only be signed when there is no longer any need to make reservations with regard to voting rights.
Legal equality between the sexes is an important prerequisite for the realization of human rights. All of the reservations proposed call into question the credibility of our country as a rule of law and a democracy.
We therefore call on all well-meaning politicians and voters to implement women's right to vote and vote in the federal government, in the cantons and in all municipalities as quickly as possible. "
The number of 5,000 demonstrators seems small today, but it scared the politicians of the time. In the meantime, not only the radical voting rights associations and the FBB opposed, but also the conservative women's organizations, the non-profit women's association , the rural women's association , the Catholic and Protestant women's association .
The FBB drew attention to itself through squatting and militant protest actions. The group was sharply criticized by the women's suffrage association, as it was feared that the actions could damage "the cause". On the other hand, large parts of the public, especially young people, welcomed the brisk pace of the FBB.
This was followed by protracted political back and forth between the Federal Council , National Council and Council of States until a generally recognized proposal for the introduction of women's suffrage was drawn up. Meanwhile, the FBB protests continued. The referendum itself was relatively calm. All governing parties and the two most influential professional associations, the union federation and the farmers' association, had issued the yes slogan.
Federal referendum 1971
123 years after the Federal Constitution of 1848, Swiss men granted women active and passive voting rights and the right to vote in political decisions. On February 7, 1971, the bill was accepted by the male electorate with 621,109 votes to 323,882 votes (65.7 percent yes) and 15 ½ stands against 6 ½ stands. The majority of the cantons of German-speaking Eastern and Central Switzerland voted against the introduction: Appenzell Innerrhoden , Appenzell Ausserrhoden , Uri , St. Gallen , Thurgau , Glarus , Schwyz and Obwalden .
|Canton||Yes (%)||No (%)||Participation (%)|
«Finally, finally, finally [...] Hundreds of tons fall from me. The task that had been handed down unsolved from one generation to the next for almost a hundred years found its brilliant fulfillment in the last “men's vote” on February 7, 1971.
From now on there will only be referendums in the true sense of the word. "
In an international comparison, political equality between men and women was introduced late in Switzerland. In New Zealand women's suffrage has been applicable since 1893, in Germany since 1919, in the United States since 1920. Still later, when Switzerland led Portugal on November 15, 1974, and the Principality of Liechtenstein on 1 July 1984, the women the one and -wahlrecht.
In the federal elections on October 31, 1971 , women were therefore entitled to vote and eligible for election for the first time. Eleven women were elected to the National Council, which made up 5.5 percent of 200 mandataries:
- Elisabeth Blunschy (1922-2015), CVP
- Tilo Frey (1923-2008), FDP
- Hedi Lang (1931-2004), SP
- Josi Meier (1926-2006), CVP
- Gabrielle Nanchen (* 1943), SP
- Martha Ribi (1915-2010), FDP
- Hanna Sahlfeld-Singer (* 1943), SP
- Liselotte Spreng (1912–1992), FDP
- Hanny Thalmann (1912-2000), CVP
- Lilian Uchtenhagen (1928-2016), SP
- Nelly Wicky (1923-2020), PdA
Focus of the discussion
In the following, the reasons given during the voting campaigns for or against the introduction of women's suffrage are summarized again:
Overall, the supportive arguments were characterized by their strong reference to fundamental political principles and legal norms. One of the most important was Article 1 of the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848, which stated without qualification: "All Swiss are equal before the law." In addition, the proponents were able to refer to human rights, which grant all people, including women, the right to vote and be elected. With the principle that in a democracy the duty to obey the laws of a country must also be accompanied by the right to pass such laws, they were also able to refer to an important position in legal philosophy. The counter-argument put forward by the opponents that women can already do this by exerting influence on their husbands was typically rejected again with recourse to a general principle according to which the exercise of rights must not depend on the goodwill of third parties.
The opponents of women's suffrage, on the other hand, argued with arguments that on the one hand cast doubt on the need for an innovation, but on the other hand warned of the supposedly negative consequences of women's suffrage to be expected.
In the first sense, it was stated, for example, that the idea of women's suffrage was a non-Swiss idea imported from abroad, which was also rejected by the vast majority of Swiss women who were not interested in voting rights, especially since every woman expressed her opinion indirectly through her own Man could express.
Another aspect was expressed in the idea that politics was a dirty business in which women would find it too difficult to maintain respect for society. Their involvement in political decisions will inevitably lead to the loss of their femininity , while their dependence on their men will only be exchanged for new dependencies through the introduction of voting rights.
In addition, the negative impact on men was emphasized, who would inevitably be discriminated against because of the majority of the population of women. Military service, which is only mandatory for men, played an important role in this regard, as it discriminated against them anyway - an argument which proponents mostly countered with reference to the voluntary deployment of women in the military auxiliary service.
Finally, the categorical view was taken that the state itself was essentially a male institution, which, by its nature, could not be understood by women in the necessary depth.
Constitutional article on the right to vote and be elected
Federal Constitution 1848
Federal Constitution 1874
The article was changed into the constitution on February 7, 1971:
The age was lowered to 18 years in 1991.
Federal Constitution of April 18, 1999
Selection of people involved
|The other parties allowed their members to vote and did not issue any slogans to vote.
At the FDP , the delegates' assembly voted against the yes recommendation of the central board with 140 to 131 votes for the no slogan. In a second round, she decided with 148 votes to 115 to prefer the vote approval to the no slogan.
No parties, but also influential:
50 years after 1971
In 2021, the historic vote from 1971 was commemorated in a variety of ways. For example, with an exhibition called Hommage 2021 in the old town of Bern with 52 portraits of women from all cantons. Because of the risk of infection from Covid-19 , many events could not take place as planned.
Women's right to vote at cantonal level
When the federal women's suffrage was introduced (February 7, 1971), some cantons had already introduced cantonal women's suffrage, but most followed in 1971 and 1972. When it was founded on March 20, 1977, Jura took along with it (previously part of the canton Bern). Appenzell Innerrhoden was the last canton in which the right to vote for women was introduced, and only with the decision of the Federal Court of Justice for women against the will of the (male) voters in the Landsgemeinde on April 29, 1990. The existing cantonal regulation was first adopted as Violation of the federal constitution declared.
|February 1, 1959||Vaud|
|September 27, 1959||Neuchâtel|
|March 6, 1960||Geneva|
|June 26, 1966||Basel city|
|June 23, 1968||Basel-Country|
|19th October 1969||Ticino|
|April 12, 1970||Valais|
|October 25, 1970||Lucerne|
|November 15, 1970||Zurich|
|7th February 1971||Introduction at federal level|
|7th February 1971||Aargau , Freiburg , Schaffhausen , Zug|
|May 2nd 1971||Glarus (an der Landsgemeinde)|
|June 6, 1971||Solothurn|
|December 12, 1971||Bern (also the Jura , which split off from Bern on March 20, 1977 ), Thurgau|
|January 23, 1972||St. Gallen|
|January 30, 1972||Uri|
|March 5th 1972||Schwyz , Graubünden|
|April 30, 1972||Nidwalden (an der Landsgemeinde)|
|September 24, 1972||Obwalden|
|April 30, 1989||Appenzell Ausserrhoden (an der Landsgemeinde)|
|November 27, 1990||Appenzell Innerrhoden ( decision of the Federal Court of Justice for women )|
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