Swiss women's movement

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The origins of the organized Swiss women's movement lie in the local women's associations , many of which came together in the course of the political struggles of the 19th century. These associations were originally primarily involved in the areas of welfare and education . It was not until the second half of the 19th century that they began to seriously politicize - following the first complete revision of the Federal Constitution in 1874, in which women and their demands were ignored - and to join forces in cantonal and national umbrella organizations in order to pool their strengths. The first national women's associations were mainly supported by women from the middle-class educated elite and - due to the lack of a popular base - were accordingly short-lived. These associations primarily campaigned for gender equality in civil law and labor law , but were overall very heterogeneous in their structures, demands and world views.

The new, autonomous women's movement, on the other hand, emerged from the youth and student unrest of 1968 as a reaction to the stagnation of the First Women's Movement on the one hand and to the again male-dominated New Left on the other. The new feminists no longer fought for equal rights for women in society, politics and the economy, but presented a radical criticism of the existing society on the basis of feminist social analyzes by French and American theorists and proposed new models of society.

Philosophical basics

As in the international women’s movement, two fundamental views regarding the relationship between the sexes emerged in Switzerland: a dualistic or differentialistic view and a generalistic or egalitarian view (for details on these concepts, see feminism ).

In the first Swiss women's movement, the dualistic view was dominant: men and women have fundamentally different "natures". Family work and moral concern for the community are part of the female role. The political and social influence of the women's associations at that time was therefore primarily limited to the areas of "social motherliness", which they knew how to monopolize for themselves.

The egalitarian approach, which in the first wave of the women's movement could only prevail in its left wing, was based on the ideas of the Enlightenment . According to this, all people were equal, from which the demand for equality of the sexes in all areas of society was derived. Until the 1960s, this approach only played a subordinate role in the Swiss women's movement. Only with the radical social criticism of the New Women's Movement and the demands of feminists did the egalitarian approach gain a new impetus.

The conflict between the egalitarian and differentialist approach shaped the relationship between the old and the new women's movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

First women's movement


In the middle of the 19th century there were hundreds of women's associations in Switzerland that were dedicated to charitable or social purposes. They were led by pastors, social politicians or educators and often only existed as long as the respective founder was active. Hardly any woman ventured into politics. With the formation of the modern Confederation in 1848 and the discussions about the total revision of the Federal Constitution in 1874, this situation changed and several women publicly demanded that women be better off in civil law. In the 1870s, the first beginnings of an organized women's movement develop.

The first cross-regional women's associations were formed in the fight against prostitution (French-speaking Switzerland) and around charitable tasks (German-speaking Switzerland). These associations were supported in particular by women from the middle class, as they gave them the opportunity to become active in public without leaving their traditional "female" role. It was not until the 1890s that women's rights associations existed in all major Swiss cities , which were supposed to give weight to the demands of their members for equal political and civil rights. Separately from these bourgeois organizations, alliances emerged among the workers who pursued the same goals for a long time.

Towards the end of the 1890s, important legislative changes in the areas of civil law , criminal law , health and accident insurance law were on the political agenda in Swiss politics , which women also wanted to influence. A more efficient organization of the interest groups was therefore necessary. In contrast to other interest groups and associations, however, the women lacked an important means of exerting pressure: the referendum, which is why the demand for the right to vote and to vote soon became a top priority. In order to give this demand more weight, various women's associations tried to form an umbrella organization. Several attempts in this regard failed due to the different political, denominational and ideological interests of the associations and people involved.

In the 1890s, the welfare state was confronted more and more with the consequences of industrialization . That is why not only women became politicized, but politicians began to take an interest in their concerns in order to cushion the worst effects of industrialization on the population. The work of the non-profit women's associations was appreciated and was prepared to accommodate them to a certain extent and, in particular, to facilitate their work through active participation in decisions in the areas of schooling, poor relief and church affairs.

Towards the turn of the century, the boundaries between the various women's associations became more and more mixed up. The dividing line no longer ran along confessional boundaries or social classes, but two camps developed, from which the progressive demanded political and legal equality, while the conservative did not want to question the traditional gender hierarchy .

The idea of ​​an umbrella association of women's organizations failed due to the different ideological, denominational and political orientations of the women's associations. On the eve of the First World War , five large women's associations existed, whose relationship was characterized by mutual delimitation and cooperation from case to case: the Swiss non-profit women's association (SGF), the Association of German- Swiss Women's Associations for the Improvement of Morality , the Federation of Swiss Women's Associations (BSF), the Association of Swiss Workers' Associations (SAV) and the Swiss Catholic Women's Federation (SKF). In addition, there were nationwide organizations with specific objectives, such as the influential Swiss Association for Women's Suffrage (SVF) or the Swiss Association of Women Teachers .

After the First World War, women's suffrage was introduced in several European countries . The Swiss women, who had hoped that their work in the military Red Cross service and in alleviating the consequences of the war would be rewarded through political recognition, were disappointed. In contrast to other countries, however, this did not lead to a radicalization of the women's movement in Switzerland. In the general international climate of class struggle ( Russian Revolution 1917, Swiss General Strike 1918), the Swiss women's movement polarized and split into two camps for the next few decades. While the bourgeois women's organizations professed their loyalty to the state, the workers' movement increasingly turned to the labor movement, the trade unions and the socialist party landscape.

Since their efforts to achieve political equality were in vain, the large Swiss women's organizations in the 1920s concentrated more and more on "typical women" issues, in particular vocational training in the domestic sector. Between 1919 and 1921, votes were taken in six cantons to introduce voting rights for women and were rejected by large majorities everywhere. With the polarization of the general political situation, the women's associations no longer dared to take offensive action and their involvement in traditional welfare (education, school, church, welfare) gained ground again. The more progressive associations turned their interests more towards women’s gainful employment and vocational training. At the same time, however, a professionalization took place within the women's associations, as a result of which they gained influence and were taken seriously in politics on “their” issues - except for the women's issue.

The global economic crisis and the threat of fascism in neighboring countries led to increased conservatism in Switzerland's political climate , which was also noticeable in the women's movement. Progressive concerns of women (equal rights, economic and social betterment, legalization of abortion ) continued to lose ground. The tense situation meant that the associations within the women's movement came closer together, as both social democratic and middle-class women worked together to cope with the consequences of the crisis and the war. The strategy of "exemplary citizenship" that had been initiated - so far unsuccessful - was continued with just as little success after the Second World War. The recognition of civil rights could not be achieved with charitable work and female employment in service professions. This was only possible at the end of the 1960s through radicalization and more self-confident demands for civil rights.

In the post-war years and during the 1950s, which were marked by the Cold War , women's concerns once again took a back seat. With the economic miracle , single-income families became possible for the general population for the first time, and the prevailing image of women was that of the well-groomed, modern, technologically advanced housewife and mother who professionally supported her husband's career and intensively promoted the talents of their children. Nevertheless, there were many working women, and the Swiss women's associations made great efforts to help women and their political activities gain social recognition. After women's suffrage was rejected at federal level in 1959, they shifted their efforts to the cantons, where they were successful in Geneva, Vaud and Neuchâtel.

Towards the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s - with the beginning problems of the consumer society - women began again to look after their interests as employees and as consumers . It was not until 1968 - when the Federal Council only wanted to sign the European Convention on Human Rights with reservations - that the struggle for political participation flared up again. Supported by young, radical feminists from the political left (see New Women's Movement ), political rights were now demanded as human rights - and not, as before, as women's rights . The combined forces of the traditional women's associations and the organizations of the New Women's Movement finally forced the political decision-makers in Switzerland to put the question of women's suffrage back on the agenda. When, after decades of waiting, women's suffrage in Switzerland was finally adopted in the federal vote of 1971, the traditional women's organizations saw their goal. Some dissolved, others joined the New Women's Movement with newly formulated goals.

Chronology of the ancient women's movement


In the discussions about the total revision of the Federal Constitution, the Association internationale des femmes reached the National Council in two advances (1868 and 1870) and unsuccessfully demanded civil law equality for women in the new constitution. At around the same time, the establishment of the International Workers' Association triggered a wave of union foundations by women: chain makers, jewelery polishers, men's tailors and seamstresses organized themselves into their own unions . The silk weavers founded a "women section" of the silk weavers' union.

In 1872 Julie von May von Rüed entered the political arena for the first time with the publication of Die Frauenfrage in der Schweiz . In the same year, the Association internationale des femmes was dissolved and re-established as the Association internationale pour la défense des droits de la femme (better known as Solidarité ). The first Swiss workers' congress took place in Olten in 1873. For the first time in the Swiss labor movement, female trade unionists demanded equality for women in trade unions and the inclusion of women's interests in the trade union struggle.

In 1877 the Swiss Women's Association for the Improvement of Morality was founded as the Swiss umbrella organization of the International Federation for the Abolition of Prostitution . The International Association of Friends of Young Girls was founded in Neuchâtel . Further civic women’s associations emerged as part of the anti-alcohol movement.


The first umbrella organization of Swiss women's organizations was founded in 1885 under the leadership of Elise Honegger . Due to internal differences, the Swiss Women's Association split up in 1888 and was dissolved again in 1892.

With the petition from Marie Goegg-Pouchoulin for the introduction of women's suffrage in 1886 and the organization of the First National Women's Congress in Geneva in 1896, the Swiss women's movement first appeared as a serious political force. In the same year, Meta von Salis demanded full equality for women in her “Heretical New Year's Thoughts of a Woman” printed in the Zurich Post and described full civil rights for women as the “premise of the bourgeois state”. Von Salis was the first woman who dared as an individual to publicly advocate women's suffrage.

Between 1886 and 1887, Gertrude Guillaume-Schack , who was involved in the Second International, founded several organizations for women workers in service professions whose interests were not adequately represented in the existing trade unions. The first female workers' association was established in St. Gallen , followed by associations in Winterthur, Zurich, Basel and Bern. The workers ' associations came together in 1890 to form the Association of Swiss Workers' Associations (SAV).

Also in 1887, Emilie Kempin-Spyri , the first Swiss female lawyer, requested admission to the legal profession and failed before the federal court.

The Swiss non-profit women's association SGF was founded in 1888, and by the turn of the century it was to develop into one of the most influential Swiss women's organizations.


In 1891 Emma Pieczynska-Reichenbach broke away from the abolitionist movement and founded the Union des femmes de Genève , which was increasingly committed to women's rights.

In 1892 several self-help organizations for female workers emerged, including a. collective insurance for sick workers in Bern and a “death benefit with funeral allowance” in St. Gallen. In the same year the Swiss Teachers Association was founded. The Bern Women's Committee was formed in Bern and soon became the expert committee on women's issues for the Federal Council and Parliament.

For the first time in 1893, a submission by the SAV to the Federal Council demanded minimum wages for women and men and other rights. The demand for political equality for women was recorded for the first time at the delegates' assembly of the SAV - a demand that was only included in the program of the Social Democratic Party in 1904.

On behalf of the Federal Council, a survey was carried out in 1893 on the charitable activities of Swiss women. The survey showed that at this point in time there were 5695 women's associations across the country who had dedicated themselves to the fight against poverty, prostitution and alcoholism.

In 1896 the first Swiss congress for the interests of women took place as part of the national exhibition in Geneva . For the first time, the women's movement appeared as a political force across Switzerland. As a counterpart to the Protestant friends of young girls , the Catholics founded the Pro Filia association .

In 1898 the delegates of the SAV demanded better support for women workers from the organized workers. As a direct result of this demand, Marie Villinger was the first woman to be elected to the national board of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions. A year later, at the urging of the Church, Catholic women workers founded the Association of Catholic Women Workers as a counterpart to the socialist SAV.

On May 17, 1900, six women's rights associations submitted a collective petition to the Federal Department of Justice and Police under the name “Federation of Swiss Women's Associations” for the separation of property in the new Civil Code (ZGB). The BSF under the direction of Helene von Mülinen was officially founded on May 26th of the same year. At the same time, on the initiative of Hedwig Bleuler-Waser, the Swiss Confederation of Abstinent Women was established .


Between 1901 and 1905 the workers' movement radicalized under the leadership of the SAV. The SAV managed to bring women's demands for political equality into the action programs of the trade union movement and the Social Democratic Party.

The BSF, for its part, requested the right to vote for women in church affairs in 1904 by submitting a petition to the Swiss Reformed Church Conference . Finally, the delegates' assembly of the SAV decided to join forces with the bourgeois women of the BSF on the issue of women's suffrage. In 1905 the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions created the position of a female workers' secretary. With the help of the SAV woman Margarethe Faas-Hardegger , who held this position from 1905 to 1909, the workers' movement gained a feminist profile and political influence. Among other things, she raised the issue of paid maternity leave and housework in the trade union discussion.

When the new Civil Code was published in 1907, the women's associations had to admit their failure in demanding an improvement in the legal situation of women. They became more and more aware of the importance of voting rights for women in order to be able to exert influence. Even middle-class women - above all the BSF - were now increasingly committed to women's suffrage and caught up with the workers. Until 1908 there were women's suffrage associations in Olten, Neuchâtel, Zurich, Le Locle, Geneva, Canton Vaud, Bern and La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Also in 1907 the first drafts for a new law on working hours appeared. Then the female office workers and alumni of the subsidiary trading schools in Zurich, Bern and Geneva organized themselves into their own interest groups.

In 1908 the Christian Social Workers' Associations adopted a new program. In it they demanded women's suffrage in schools, welfare and the poor. In the same year, several moral associations founded the Swiss Association for the Protection of Children and Women with the help of the Swiss Charitable Women's Association , which was renamed Pro Juventute in 1913.

In 1909 the local voting rights associations merged to form the Swiss Association for Women's Suffrage (SVF) . None of the traditional women's associations joined the new association, which most considered too progressive. After a dispute with the board of directors of the SGB, Margarethe Faas-Hardegger was dismissed as workers' secretary for the trade union federation and her position was filled with Marie Walter-Hüni .

In 1910 the Second International Socialist Women's Conference took place in Copenhagen . The international workers' movement obliged the social democratic parties across Europe to advocate women's suffrage . In addition, the socialists explicitly differentiated themselves from bourgeois women by forbidding their members to participate in bourgeois women's associations and groups. In addition, March 19 was introduced as a day of struggle for women's rights. The International Socialist Women's Day was celebrated in Switzerland for the first time 1,911th


1912 was a crucial year for the Swiss women's movement. After the workers' movement decided to separate from the bourgeois women's movement, Catholics finally went their own way with the establishment of the Swiss Catholic Women's Federation (SKF) . At the same time, the bourgeois women's movement moved closer together: the BSF moved away from its egalitarian demands, right up to the official representation of a dualistic worldview. This resulted in points of contact with the non-profit women's association and the moral association .

In 1914 the First World War broke out. Switzerland mobilized the men fit for military service and the large women's associations under the leadership of the SGF called on all Swiss women in a “mobilization order” to do their patriotic duty and to serve their homeland. The local civil women's associations formed so-called «women's cartels» in all cities, which coordinated welfare work and set up advice centers for the population. Under the guidance of Else Züblin-Spiller , several abstinent and moral associations founded the Swiss Association of Soldiers' Welfare , which offered the mobilized soldiers non-alcoholic rooms where they could spend their free time.

The women 's world association for the promotion of international unity , supported by middle-class women, was founded in Geneva in 1915. The socialist workers' associations in Switzerland criticized the war as an "expression of class struggle and imperialism" and demanded financial support from the state for the families of the drafted soldiers. The Bernese voting rights association brought the idea of ​​a “national women's donation” to the table, but this was rejected by most women's organizations for various reasons: The progressives refused to recognize new duties until their demands for equal rights were fulfilled. The Social Democrats saw the state's duty to support the soldiers and the SKF preferred to support only Catholic soldiers and their families. On the other hand, the non-profit women's association collected around one million francs, which went to the soldiers' rooms and families. In the same year Emma Graf founded the yearbook of Swiss women .

On Socialist Women's Day in 1916, 40 manifestations throughout Switzerland demanded the right to vote for women and equal pay for equal work . During the year the Swiss Committee for the International Women's Committee for Enduring Peace was formed . The organization, later renamed the International Women's League for Peace and Freedom , formed an interface between the emancipatory and pacifist aspirations of bourgeois women on an international level, yet it was very close to the workers' movement and the socialist women's movement. Clara Ragaz took over the presidency for the Swiss section. On October 1, 1916, the government transferred the care of the soldiers and their families to the Swiss Association of Soldiers' Welfare.

Between 1916 and 1917 there were initiatives by social democratic politicians in several cantons (BE, BS, NE, GE, ZH, VD) for the introduction of women's suffrage, which were supported by both the SGF and the moral associations. The latter hoped that the introduction of women's suffrage would bring about a U-turn in politics regarding prostitution. In several Swiss cities women demonstrated against high food prices, against dearth and hunger. In particular, the demonstration organized by Rosa Bloch-Bollag on June 10, 1918 in Zurich triggered a Swiss-wide wave of solidarity with the labor movement and the women's movement.

In 1917 the Association of Swiss Workers' Associations was dissolved and transferred to the SPS. The women's groups formed within the SP were coordinated from 1919 by the Central Women's Agitation Commission, ZFAK , headed by Rosa Bloch-Bollag.

In the minimum program of the Olten Action Committee ( Swiss national strike ) presented to the Federal Council in 1918, women's rights to vote were called for. The SVF officially supported this demand. At the end of 1918, not only the SVF, but also the BSF and the SGF supported the motions of the national councilors Greulich and Göttisheim.


After the failure of the votes to introduce women's suffrage in six cantons, the Swiss women's movement became sobered and turned to other issues - particularly professional work. The demand for economic equality dominated the 1920s. Women's associations founded career advice centers, training courses in nursing, social work and housekeeping. In addition, new professional organizations for women emerged. The women's movement within the political left began campaigning for the impunity of abortion and maternity insurance.

In 1921 the second national congress for women's interests took place in Bern . The focus was on demands for the right to gainful employment, equal pay for equal work and better vocational training for women.

In 1922, the Swiss consumer cooperative women's association was founded. In 1923 the Confederation of Swiss Women's Associations founded the Swiss Central Office for Women's Professions. The Association for Vocational Advice and Apprentice Care was also established on the initiative of the FSO . In the same year Rosa Neuenschwander founded the Swiss Women's Trade Association .

In 1925, the Zurich women's associations merged in the suburb of women's headquarters in Zurich.

On October 6, 1927, the central conference of the SP women's groups formulated its political and legal demands on the SP delegate assembly: self-determination of women in abortion, introduction of maternity insurance, marriage counseling centers , political equality for women. While women gained weight in the SPS, they lost influence in the KPS, and the women's agitation commission there was replaced by a “women's department” of the Central Committee.

In 1928 the Swiss Exhibition for Women's Work (SAFFA) took place in Bern. In the same year the Catholic Women's Union published a resolution in which the right to vote and suffrage for women was resolutely rejected.

The Swiss Association for Women's Suffrage (SVF) launched a petition for women's suffrage together with the social democrats in 1929. The record number of 249,237 signatures exceeded the required number of signatures of a popular initiative and led to the fact that the parliament asked the Federal Council to treat the motions Greulich and Göttisheim from 1919 with higher priority. The Federal Council complied with this request in 1957.


The 1930s were characterized by the global economic crisis and the rise of fascism in Europe. The demand for female employment was met with suspicion in view of the high unemployment in the Depression . Under these circumstances, the Swiss women's associations turned away from political and economic demands and towards charitable work. The social democrats also concentrated increasingly on charitable work and - due to the tense international situation - international solidarity. In parallel to the existing associations, new women's interest groups emerged.

On the initiative of Rosa Neuenschwander , the Swiss Rural Women Association was founded in 1932 , followed by the foundation of the Association of Swiss Housewives' Associations in 1933 . In October 1934, the large organizations (BSF, SGF, SVF, women's centers, teachers 'association and academics' association ) founded the Women and Democracy Working Group to counter the burgeoning fascism and to make a public commitment to democracy, but also to equality.

After the World Federation for Women's Suffrage and Civic Women's Work met in Zurich in 1937 , the Swiss women's suffrage movement received renewed impetus - the fight against totalitarian tendencies and for democracy remained the priority. In 1938 all of the major women's organizations organized a rally against the war and for Swiss democracy and independence.

In 1939, the State Ring of Independents founded its women's commission, which in the future worked closely with the BSF. At the Landi in Zurich, the women's organizations had a “pavilion for Swiss women”, where they presented the benefits of women for the national economy and the spiritual defense of the country and drew attention to the political inequalities of women. As a concrete contribution to the spiritual defense of the country , they also arranged the "Lecture Service of Swiss Women", which gave lectures in many Swiss cities on democracy and the independence of Switzerland. The SKF, BSF and SVF were particularly involved. Immediately before the outbreak of war, the SVF dared to push the National Council again with the argument that the political participation of women was essential for a democratic country, especially in times of war.

Second World War

After the outbreak of the Second World War, representatives of all national women's associations were asked by the federal government to form a consultative women's committee. This was assigned to the War Food Office . The women's organizations encouraged their members to get involved in one of the many institutions that had been created to mitigate the consequences of the war: the military women's service (FHD) , civil women's service , land service , the “ Army and House ” organization. The women of the workers' movement joined forces with the local women's headquarters .

Towards the end of the war, the political mood changed in favor of women. The political left in particular made serious efforts to implement the demands of "their" women. All over Switzerland, membership in women's suffrage groups increased and even organized Catholics changed their minds about political equality for women. In this positive climate, several cantons prepared votes to introduce women’s right to vote at cantonal level.


On April 1, 1944, the Swiss Women's Secretariat was opened in Zurich . In the same year, National Councilor Oprecht submits a postulate to introduce women's suffrage, since important women's political issues are on the agenda and, in his opinion, women should have a say. The Oprecht postulate was supported by the BSF in 1945 with a submission on behalf of 38 women's organizations. The non-profit women explicitly distanced themselves from this request, the SKF gave its members the right to vote for the first time, which was the first time he deviated from the conservative Catholic line of the church. In the same year, 1945, the Swiss Action Committee for Women's Suffrage was founded.

The third Swiss Women's Congress took place from September 20 to 24, 1946 . The topic was «Women in responsible work among the Swiss people».

In 1947 the Evangelical Women's Federation of Switzerland (EFS) and the Citizens' Association of Catholic Swiss Women (STAKA) were founded.

At the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1948, the women felt ignored and therefore organized various rallies. In a resolution, the SVF again demanded political equality for Swiss women. The SGF was the only association to take no action.

In 1949 the BSF was reorganized with the aim of becoming the umbrella organization for all Swiss women's associations. In the same year, the women of the FDP founded their own association, independent of the FDP, the Swiss Association of Liberal Democratic Women .


Right at the beginning of the conservative 1950s, two petitions to the government caused a stir: on the one hand, the SVF's proposal to introduce women's suffrage through the back door through a reinterpretation of the constitution (instead of a constitutional amendment), and, on the other hand, the BSF and the women's professional associations to ratify Convention No. 100 («Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value») of the International Labor Organization .

In 1956 the Federal Council wanted to introduce mandatory civil protection for men and women. BSF, SVF and SKF opposed this and wanted active citizenship for women to be linked to such a compulsory element. SGF and the Working Group on Women and Democracy, on the other hand, supported the submission in the hope of active citizenship rights as a “reward”.

The Swiss Working Group of Women's Associations for the Political Rights of Women (ARGE) was founded in 1957 by all national women's organizations except the Rural Women's Association and the SGF. The Migros -Genossenschafterinnen founded in the same year their own association, the Swiss Federation of Migros cooperative members. With the help of the new association, they wanted to protect the interests of consumers and their families, but also to advocate equal rights for women.

In 1958, the SKF changed its mind about women's suffrage and issued the yes slogan for the upcoming vote. From July 17 to September 15, the second SAFFA took place under the motto “Life cycle of women in family, work and state”, with the BSF in view of the federal Votes from 1959 spread an inoffensive mood. The appearance of Iris von Roten's book Women in the Playpen , however, turned the mood to the disadvantage of women - despite public distancing by the women's organizations.

On February 1, 1959, the introduction of women's suffrage was voted on for the first time at national level and the bill was rejected by (male) voters with a large majority. The majority of the women's protests remained muted, and a strike by 50 teachers from Basel was publicly disapproved by the major women's organizations. The big women's organizations still tried to spread an image of women as obedient citizens who adhered to the law and otherwise unofficially represented the traditional image of women. From now on they shifted their activities again to the cantonal level. At the national level, they concentrated on extra-parliamentary participation.

The Swiss Trade Union Confederation (SGB) introduced a women's commission as a new body in 1959. The women's commission was financed by the SGB and received a seat on the board. The aim of the women's commission was to represent employed women and to improve their position. In 1965 the Christian National Trade Union Federation (CNG) followed the SGB and also set up a women's commission.

The Fédération romande des consommatrices (FRC) was founded in Chexbres in 1959 to represent the interests of consumers. In 1961, the consumer forums from the various parts of the country merged to form the Swiss consumer forum .


The 1960s were marked by student unrest, the hippies, the burgeoning rock culture and a new left. In the context of the social upheavals of this decade, and especially after the devastating defeat of the vote on women's suffrage, the traditional women's associations lost more and more ground in the broader population. From the intellectual circles of the new left came young women who represented radical feminism with provocative actions, some of which were spectacular for Swiss standards. These women gave new impetus to the stagnating women's movement of the first wave, which finally led to the fact that on February 7, 1971, women were accepted by the population.

Now the clubs and organizations of the old women's movement believed they had reached their destination. Many activists could not understand the demands of the younger generation for equality and deeper social changes. The women's movement underwent a profound change, with some organizations disbanding, while others appropriated socially critical feminist demands and reformulated their priorities and demands.

Organizations of the first women's movement

At the beginning of the 20th century, five large national associations were established that shaped the women's movement:

In addition to these general women's associations, there were a number of national women's organizations with specific objectives (e.g. the Swiss Association for Women's Suffrage (SVF) and trade union associations) that were generally politically active (e.g. Swiss Teachers' Association ).

New women's movement


The new women's movement in Switzerland was part of an international development that took place during the 1960s. In ideological terms, it was only partly rooted in the old women's rights movement, but rather in the new left, the alternative movement and, in part, the autonomy movement. The student movement of 1968 is considered to be the trigger for a new women's movement in Switzerland. From this, the first organized autonomous women's group emerged in Zurich at the end of 1968, which was soon to be called the Women's Liberation Movement (FBB). In other cities and parts of the country, too, autonomous women's groups soon emerged, which belonged to the FBB. The women of the FBB criticized the discrepancy between the freedom of rule demanded by the new left and the gender order existing within the movement. They turned not only against bourgeois society and the family, but also against the "patriarchal structures" prevailing in the student movement.

At the same time, other groups emerged from other areas of the left that initially wanted nothing to do with the Autonomous. This included u. a. the Progressive Women Switzerland , the predecessor of the Organization for the cause of women (OFRA). In contrast to the women of the FBB, the progressives tried to combine feminism with socialism, making use of existing political instruments.

Feminist social analysis

The new women's movement in Switzerland had the motto The private is political . Ie individual everyday experiences of women were explained with the social conditions. For example, the gender-specific division of labor was criticized as discriminatory for women and it was shown that the economic and social system could not function without cheap or free work for women and would collapse. Further criticism related to poorer education for women and to wage discrimination . In addition, there was the uncovering and public questioning of taboo topics such as abortion , rape in marriage and violence against women . Full self-determination of women was called for in all of these areas.

Concrete action

The new women's movement not only criticized society, but also tried to counter the points it perceived as grievances with its own solutions. This resulted in countless self-help and work groups on a wide variety of topics and, over time, a real “women's infrastructure” in all Swiss cities. These included u. a. Women's centers, women's counseling centers, women's health centers, women's bookstores and women's libraries.

On the political level, the groups of the new women's movement were looking for new forms of expression of participation. With the help of their provocative and therefore attractive protest actions for the media, they brought their demands to the streets and thus managed to trigger wide public discussions on "their" topics.

Relationships between the old and the new women's movement

Until the first half of the 1980s, traditional bourgeois and feminist women's organizations were strictly separated from one another. The feminists strove for a new gender relationship, while the bourgeois women's rights activists clung to their traditional image of women and men - and thus the relationship between the two. Only in the course of the 1980s did feminist demands find their way more and more into the programs of traditional women's organizations, which in turn reoriented themselves. But it was only in the course of the 1990s that mutual tolerance and the willingness to work sporadically together on content-related issues developed.

From the second half of the 1980s, feminist concerns found their way more and more into the political programs of the parties and the authorities, which is why organizations of both the old and the new women's movement lost importance. The cantons, the federal government, the national trade unions and also private-sector companies began to set up departments responsible for gender equality or employed women's representatives. At the political level, the parties began to introduce women's quotas and lists. As a result of these changes, the meaning of an organized women's movement was also critically questioned within our own ranks and sometimes questioned.

Chronology of the new women's movement

The new women's movement appeared on the scene for the first time in 1968 and 1969, disrupting rallies by traditional women's suffrage groups in order - according to their motivation - to finally get them to act.


The 1970s were dominated by the regulation of deadlines (termination of pregnancy without punishment ), but also violence against women. Issues such as intimate partner abuse, sexual violence, rape, pornography, racism and sexism, sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual exploitation of children, etc. were brought into the focus of public discussions. In addition, there were specific projects to offer help and advice to those affected ( women's refuge ). A new trend emerged within the women's movement towards the end of the 1970s, which set out in search of “female spirituality” and “female history” and celebrated its “womanhood”. In addition, a whole women-specific subculture emerged with service companies in various areas.

In 1971 the Federal People's Initiative "for impunity of the termination of pregnancy" was submitted, whereby a large part of the necessary signatures had been collected from FBB women.

As the first autonomous women's project, INFRA was established in Zurich in 1972 as an information and advice center. Similar projects were launched in all of the larger Swiss cities in the following years. On October 21, 1974, the opening ceremony of the first Swiss autonomous women's center followed, which the FBB and the homosexual women's group had won through petitions, petitions and spontaneous actions. Everywhere the women's groups began to set up women's centers and meeting places with house squats and other sensational activities.

1975 was the first International Year of Women and a decisive year in the European, but also in the Swiss women's movement. The Fourth National Women's Congress took place in Bern from January 17th to 19th . Due to differences regarding the initiative to resolve the deadline , the FBB organized a counter-event in advance, where the issue of abortion was discussed. Despite many concerns and violent protests, Congress decided to support the initiative. It was also decided to launch the gender equality initiative.

A large-scale women's week took place at the University of Zurich from February 15 to 22, with discussions, panel discussions, films and a theater performance. Alice Schwarzer's final lecture in the cafeteria led to heated controversy. The initiators of the major event were originally the two women in what was then the Small Student Council together with its secretary.

On March 8, 1975, women protested at a national rally in front of the Federal Palace against the decision of the National Council not to change anything with regard to the criminality of abortion. Only a few days later, on March 15, thousands demonstrated in Zurich. In October 1975, FBB activists interrupted the National Council's autumn session, rolled out banners, and threw wet diapers on the council members.

Important association foundations in 1975 were the founding of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Unmarriedeter Frauen (AUF) in Olten and the founding of the Frau und Arbeit group , which set up a career advice center for women in Biel to advise, retrain and further educate women affected by the watch crisis. Similar women's centers followed in other Swiss cities.

The publication of Alice Schwarzer's “Little Difference” exerted a great influence on the women's movement not only in Germany but also in Switzerland. Not only the question of abortion was now very controversial, but also the question of "forced heterosexuality as an instrument of patriarchy for the oppression of women".

On January 22, 1976, the so-called deadline solution initiative was submitted, which provided for the impunity of termination of pregnancy during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The so-called equality initiative («Equal rights for men and women») followed on December 15th. Also in 1976 the Federal Council set up the Federal Commission for Women's Issues, which the women's organizations had called for .

On March 13, 1977, the Organization for the Cause of Women (OFRA) was founded in Zurich . Slowly but surely, the issue of domestic violence became the focus of feminist interest in Switzerland: The first association for the protection of abused women was founded in Zurich, others followed in Geneva and Bern and the first emergency accommodation for beaten women was set up.

Despite the intensive campaign conducted by the Swiss Association for the Impunity of Abortion - in cooperation with OFRA, FBB and left and liberal women and parties - the initiative to resolve the deadline was rejected by the Swiss electorate on September 25, 1977. From now on, the women's movement increasingly turned to the peace movement. As part of the peace movement strengthened by the disarmament conference in New York, groups of women for peace were formed in all Swiss cities .

In 1978 the first Frauenbeizen (restaurants reserved for women) were set up in Basel, Bern, Geneva and Meyrin. On May 19, 1978 the first " Hollandbus " drove . In the federal referendum on May 28, 1978, the indication solution proposed by the Federal Council and Parliament (punishment-free termination of pregnancy even if there were social reasons) was opposed by the women's movement as well as by conservative circles and rejected by the people.


The first half of the 1980s was again marked by increasing polarization within the Swiss women's movement. Among other things, the question of abortion , possible military service for women and the abolition of compulsory home economics for girls were controversial .

On January 21, 1980 the Organization for the Cause of Women (OFRA) as well as various autonomous women's groups, trade unions and the left-wing parties submitted the so-called maternity protection initiative, followed in July by the «Right to Life» initiative supported by conservative circles Total abortion ban). In the same year, the Swiss Association of Single Mothers and Fathers (SVAMV) was founded to represent the interests of single parents. In December there was another scandal when OFRA announced that portraits of naked women had been shot at the Bern officers' shooting. However, one lawsuit was rejected by the higher court.

In the spring session of 1981, the National Council discussed the integration of women in the overall Swiss defense , whereupon on March 6, four thousand women demonstrated on the Bundesplatz. At the federal vote on June 14, 1981, the Federal Council's counter-proposal to the equality initiative was accepted and the principle of equality between women and men anchored in the constitution. A few days later the Social Democratic women resigned en bloc from the BSF, arguing that it was too bourgeois and that it did not represent feminist politics. In the autumn of 1981, the first emergency telephone for raped women was set up in Zurich, and similar facilities followed in other cities.

From 1983 onwards, the question of whether rape in marriage was criminalized was raised by the women's organization - above all Switzerland. Association for Women's Rights SVF - put on the political agenda. At the same time, the question of compulsory military service for women was also topical when on January 21, 1983 the Federal Council sent its report on "Participation of women in overall defense" for consultation. The women's organizations were divided on this issue: while the SP women , women for peace , radical feminists , OFRA and FBB protested violently against it, the bourgeois women with the BSF and the SGF saw in this the implementation of the principle «Equal rights - equal duties» .

Also in 1983, female students and academics from all disciplines founded the Feminist Science Association (VFW) .

On March 20, 1984, women for peace made a revolutionary demand for Switzerland: one per mill of the Swiss Armed Forces budget should be invested in peace research instead of in the army . On December 2, 1984, the initiative “for effective protection of motherhood” was rejected by a large majority. The reason for this was the fact that the proposed parental leave, which also included fathers, went too far for many women from the traditional women's movement.

In the mid-1980s, new issues emerged in the women's movement. These included in particular genetic engineering and reproductive medicine, as well as issues of migration and the north-south divide. After the 3rd World Conference on Women in Nairobi (1985), discrimination against women was publicly discussed all over the world and the international networking of the women's rights movement was promoted.

Starting in February 1985, "Wyberräte" were founded all over Switzerland following the example of the German women's movement , with the aim of pooling the forces of the fragmented women's movement and turning it into a serious social and political force. From 1985 onwards, women's health centers were established in Zurich, Binningen and Bern , where not only gynecological advice but also naturopathy were taught and self-help groups were set up for women.

In 1986 the network of women refugees was founded as a service for migrant women. The OFRA founded the same year National Coordination against genetic and reproductive technology (NOGERETE). On December 15 of the same year, the women's shelters merged into a national umbrella organization.

On April 18, 1988, the Autonomous Women's Union of Switzerland (FGS) , which mainly operates in German-speaking Switzerland, was founded.

The FBB disbanded with a large women's festival in 1989, as it saw its goals - to bring women's concerns into public opinion and the “right politics” - achieved. In the autumn of the same year, the Lesbian Organization Switzerland (LOS) was founded.

At the OFRA annual congress on June 10, 1990, the subject of “sexual violence” was put up for discussion as a socio-political problem. OFRA set itself the goal of discussing the causes and consequences of violence against women in public and, in particular, to fight the myths about rape through education.


On the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation, the 20th anniversary of women's suffrage and the 10th anniversary of the article on equality in the constitution, a women’s session took place in the National Council Chamber in February 1991 , in which around 250 women from various organizations and areas took part. The draft resolution that had been prepared was rejected by a large majority because it was not concrete enough for the participants. On the other hand, a list of demands was published after the session, which contained the women's political demands discussed and accepted in working groups: old-age provision independent of marital status, care credits in the AHV, equal wages for work of equal value, admissibility of representative action in wage equality issues, maternity insurance, better representation of women in political committees, all-day schools and extracurricular childcare, women have the right to self-determination about their bodies.

On June 14, 1991, the internationally sensational women's strike took place. Hundreds of thousands of Swiss women took part in strikes and protests. The motto of the strike was “If a woman wants, everything stands still”. In 1992 several women's organizations (Federation of Swiss Women's Organizations, Swiss Association for Women's Rights, OFRA) together with the two pro-choice organizations SVSS (Swiss Association for the Impunity of Abortion) and SGRA (Swiss Society for the Right to Abortion) formed the "Abortion Working Group" who campaigned for the legalization of abortion (deadline regulation). After the assembly of delegates of the Swiss non-profit women's association SGF in 1993 decided in favor of a deadline solution, the SGF joined the group. A little later, the professional association of family planning consultants joined them.

On March 3, 1993, the Federal Assembly elected a man to the Federal Council instead of the official candidate Christiane Brunner , which sparked a nationwide protest movement. In the end, the elected Francis Matthey gave in to street pressure and renounced his election. As a result, the Federal Assembly elected the trade unionist Ruth Dreifuss . As a result of these events, the so-called « Brunner effect » occurred in Swiss politics at all levels : in all elections in the following months, the proportion of women in the cantonal and communal parliaments was significantly increased. The wave of mobilization and solidarity that seized the Swiss women's movement after Christiane Brunner was not elected led, in the long term, to increased cooperation among committed women of all stripes.

In 1994, a petition with 27,000 signatures called for a draft law from the Federal Council on paid maternity leave for working women. A first legislative proposal from parliament was rejected by the people in a referendum vote in 1999. It was not until the second attempt in 2004 that a more modest proposal for maternity insurance was passed in the referendum.

On March 22, 1995, the so-called “Quota Initiative” (initiative March 3) was submitted to the Federal Council by the non-partisan committee Committee Women . “Appropriate representation of women, taking into account the specific characteristics of each authority” in all federal authorities was called for.

All national women's organizations took part in the 1996 women's congress and the 4th UN World Women's Conference and the parallel NGO conference.

In April 1997, the women of the Christian Democratic People's Party (CVP) made a radical about-face at their assembly of delegates from a restrictive attitude towards the liberalization of abortion to support for a time limit. In the same year, the Evangelical Women's Association of Switzerland, the Swiss Rural Women's Association and - somewhat confused - also the Swiss Catholic Women's Association commented on the regulation of deadlines. The broad support from all major women's organizations, across all party lines, helped the deadline regulation to break through in the referendum on June 2, 2002.

Topics of the Swiss women's movement

Related topics


Old women's movement

  • Nora Escher: Development tendencies of the women's movement in German-speaking Switzerland 1850-1918 / 19. Dissertation, University of Zurich 1985.
  • Elisabeth Joris , Heidi Witzig : Women's stories . Documents from two centuries on the situation of women in Switzerland. 4th edition. Limmat, Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-85791-361-4 .
  • Beatrix Mesmer : in brackets - in brackets. Women and women organizations in 19th century Switzerland. Helbing and Lichtenhahn, Basel 1988, ISBN 3-7190-1025-2 .
  • Brigitte Schnegg, Anne-Marie Stalder: On the history of the Swiss women's movement. In: The position of women in Switzerland. Part IV: Women's Policy. Edited by the Federal Commission for Women's Issues , Bern 1984, pp. 5–27.
  • Regula Stämpfli : With the apron in the national defense. Women's emancipation and the Swiss military 1914-1945 . Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 2002, ISBN 3-280-02820-5 .
  • Marthe Gosteli (Ed.): Forgotten history. Illustrated chronicle of the women's movement. Volume 1: 1914-1933. Volume 2: 1934-1963. Stämpfli, Bern 2000, ISBN 3-7272-9256-3 .
  • Yvonne Voegeli: Between household effects and town hall. Controversy over political equality for women in Switzerland 1945–1971. Chronos Verlag, Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-905312-30-1 .
  • Iris von Roten : women in the playpen. Open words about the position of women. Hallwag Verlag, Bern 1958, new edition eFeF-Verlag, Zurich [etc] 1991, ISBN 3-905493-21-7 .

New women's movement

  • Anne-Marie Rey : The Archangel Maker - The 30-year struggle for deadlines . Xanthippe-Verlag, Zurich 2007, ISBN 978-3-905795-02-8 .
  • Kristina Schulz, Leena Schmitter, Sarah Kiani: Women's movement. Switzerland since 1968. Analyzes, documents, archives . here + now, Baden 2014, ISBN 978-3-03919-335-6 .

Individual evidence

  1. The women's movement from its beginnings to the First World War. ( Memento of June 29, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF 67 kB)
  2. Swiss Social Archives: Image + Sound database. In: Retrieved November 8, 2016 .
  3. Swiss Federal Chancellery: Submission No. 285… Federal Act of June 24, 1977 on the Protection of Pregnancy and the Punishment of Abortion - The bill was rejected.
  4. Monika Stocker, Edith Bachmann: Frauensession 1991. eFeF Verlag, Zurich 1991, ISBN 3-905493-23-3 , pp. 160–163.

Web links