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Swiss women demand "more time, more money, more respect"

Women in Switzerland have begun a day of demonstrations in protest at the country's high levels of gender inequality. Dr Erika Kispeter, Research Fellow in the University of Warwick Institute for Employment Research, comments:-

"The Swiss women’s strike (#frauenstreik) is a great example of feminist organising. Why?

"The strike is a vivid reminder that change does not happen on its own: unequal power relations have a tendency to shape shift without real, substantive change happening.

"The strike focuses on issues that are relevant to large groups of women:

  • Pay equality is not only about ‘the glass ceiling’ and women’s under representation on company boards, but affects all women who work for pay. According to the International Labour Organization, Swiss gender income inequality is among the developed world’s worst — as high as 20 per cent for professional women. Women in lower paid jobs are somewhat protected by the strong collective bargaining typical of the Swiss labour market.

  • Access to social security is also unequal: According to the Financial Times, women from farming communities are involved in the strike action to protest against the lack of social security and pension protection: only 30 per cent of women farm workers are entitled to state social security and pension benefits.

  • Pension inequality, a reflection of the pay inequality accumulated over a lifetime affects all women and as the Swiss example shows the gender gap in pensions can be even larger than the pay gap.

  • The strike draws attention to the impact of motherhood on women’s pay: maternity discrimination is rife in many countries, including the UK and without affordable and good quality childcare women have no other option but to exercise ‘free choice’ and work part-time or leave employment until their children are old enough to go to school.

"The best thing about the strike is that it really is about women. According to the BBC, men “have been told to stay in the background, looking after children, and preparing food for the strikers.” This also highlights that without change in the family the change in the labour market and workplaces will be limited.

"Today’s women’s strike is real-life collective action, rather than virtual activism. It is strong at the grassroots level: according to the BBC, every Swiss town and village is involved. Large scale collective action, typically associated with industrial action is extremely important. The Swiss women who go on strike today seem to understand that gender inequality in pay and employment cannot be eliminated by individual women trying to ‘lean-in.’ The strike makes it clear that women face structural inequalities, which cannot be eliminated through individual action.

"And finally, the strike is a great example of female solidarity: a network of women who call themselves ‘Godmothers for June 14’ offers to represent women who are unable to leave work and strike – the FT reports that they will carry placards with the first names of the women they are representing."

14 June 2019

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