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Swiss women won the vote 50 years ago today

February 7, 2021, No comments

On 7 February 1971 Switzerland finally joined the 20th century. That was the day when the male voters approved giving women the right to vote, making Switzerland one of the last countries in Europe to do so. FYI, Liechtenstein was the last, only managing equality in 1984.

But as the map above shows, not everywhere was in favour of women voting. Nationally 65.7% said yes but notice the urban-rural divide (eg in Canton Bern) and how some German-speaking cantons voted No, notably Appenzell Innerrhoden, where two-thirds refused the reform. The lowest Yes vote at a community level was in Spiringen in Uri, with a painful 8.3% – compare that to Geneva with 91.5%.

By the time this vote took place, nine cantons had already approved cantonal voting rights for women (led by French-speaking cantons in 1959), and by the end of 1971 eight more followed suit. Others caught up in 1972 (including Uri) until only Appenzell Innerrhoden was left. No surprise that this canton was the last to give women voting rights at cantonal level, and only when forced to by the Supreme Court in 1990

To celebrate this landmark moment of Swiss history, there are three books I’d encourage you to buy and read. First, 50 Amazing Swiss Women, written by some amazing women writers and published by Bergli Books. Some of the women you may have heard of, for example Ruth Dreifuss, the first female Swiss president, but many will be a surprise. And finding out about them is what I loved about the book.

Then there are two novels written by two wonderful women. Voting Day by Clare O’Dea follows four women on the day in 1959 when the male voters rejected women’s voting rights for the last time. The book was published simultaneously in all four Swiss national languages. The Other Daughter is a debut novel from Caroline Bishop that follows the lives of two women forty years apart, and is set against the backdrop of that crucial vote in 1971.

Better late than never could apply to a lot of things in Switzerland (I’m looking at you, marriage equality) but never more so than for women’s voting rights. It’s shocking it came so late, but Swiss women have made up for lost time since then. In the National Council, 42% of the seats are taken by women, one of the highest percentages for a parliament in Europe, and three of the seven Federal Councillors are female. And that all began on 7 February 1971.

 

 

 

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