To honour the 25th anniversary of the ‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is taking a closer look at the representation of women in parliament over the years. Two members of the Swiss delegation to the IPU speak about gender parity in Swiss politics.

The fourth United Nations Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, set strategic objectives and actions for the advancement of women and the gender equality. Twenty-five years later, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) reports on the situation in parliaments. Its first observation is that the proportion of women in parliament has increased considerably; accounting for only 11.3% in 1995, and reaching nearly 25% in 2020.

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The proportion of seats held by women in the Swiss parliament rose from 28% to 39% in the 51st legislature. The IPU attributes this increase to the women’s strike on 14 June 2019, when an estimated half a million women took to the streets demanding more respect and greater equality. The growth of the Swiss Green Party also played a role in this increase, since many of the party’s seats were held by women.

Share of women in parliament in Switzerland by international standards moved up from 38th place to 16th place at the change of legislature


Taking action

The IPU stresses that the quotas are an instrument for moving towards gender parity. Of the 20 countries with the largest proportion of women in parliament, 16 apply some form of quota, while the share of women is significantly lower in parliaments where no quotas are applied. In addition, "Experience from various countries shows that quotas work when they are accompanied by ambitious targets and strong implementation mechanisms – and when they are combined with other measures." What are the options in Switzerland? Two IPU members express their views:

Johanna Gapany, FDP /FR: "We’ve come a long way since 1971. Hats off to all the women who have paved the way! I believe diversity is one of the strengths of our system; it is together, men and women united, that we can make the best decisions. As politicians, we must lead by example and be the ambassadors for diversity in politics, beginning in communal councils, on to cantonal parliaments and all the way to the Federal Assembly."

Laurence Fehlmann Rielle, SP/GE: "To achieve gender parity, we need to put in place proactive measures, such as those already pursued by the Swiss Social Democratic Party and the Swiss Green Party. The Geneva chapter of the Social Democratic Party serves as an example: for around 15 years the party’s statutes have stipulated that the party’s electoral lists must include at least 40% of the under-represented gender. This has compelled successive party leaders to find women who agree to be added to the lists. This measure has paid off at the ballot box where socialist women have generally done well in the elections. To be clear these are quotas per list of candidates, not results-based quotas, since the democratic rules of play should be observed. 
People tend to think that women are less experienced and therefore less qualified than their male counterparts in parliament because they are less present. This is a deeply ingrained notion among conservative women who argue they do not want to be token women…! We need to break out of this vicious circle. Some women are beginning to understand that if we are not proactive, it will take decades to achieve gender parity.
In my opinion, party lists with men and women equally represented should be made mandatory. Parties should have no choice. Non-compliant lists should be made void. Fines are not enough to deal with this since some parties are prepared to pay them. We could require that the underrepresented gender be allocated 40% of the positions on the lists, and then demand gender parity. These quotas should be enshrined in electoral legislation.
Media interviews need to be given to as many female as male candidates, and gender stereotyping of women politicians in media representations must be banned.
The parties also have a duty to train women candidates: women need to be encouraged to participate in debates even if they are not experts on the subject. This is not an issue for men, who often think they are experts on all subjects."

The first page of the IPU’s report features Switzerland with a photo taken at the women’s strike on 14 June 2019.

Trend in the proportion of women in Swiss Parliament since 1971. There was a spike at the 51st legislature (2019), following the women’s strike and the rise in power of the Swiss Green Party.

Snapshots of the women’s strike with comments by the president of the National Council in 2019, Marina Carrobio Guschetti, and the president of the National Council in 2020, Isabelle Moret.