Josi Meier became an icon of the national women's session in 1991 due to her witty remarks on the place of women in Swiss society. Some months later, she was the first woman to be elected to the office of president of the Council of States; as such she received a great deal of media attention. The politician from Lucerne became known as the mother of the nation.
The CVP politician from Lucerne was among the first intake of 12 women elected to Parliament in 1971. In 1991/92 she was the first woman to serve as president of the Council of States. However, her involvement in politics began far earlier.
In 1967, Josi Meier was the only women to be invited by Federal Councillor Friedrich Traugott to join the nine-strong commission on the revision of the Federal Constitution, primarily because the introduction of women's voting rights was one of the new proposals. As a legal scholar, Josi Meier was a firm advocate of women's voting rights and campaigned publicly for their introduction. She was encouraged by the cantonal votes on the issue. Her home canton of Lucerne voted to introduce women's voting rights in October 1970, shortly before the proposal was adopted at a national level.
Josephine Johanna Meier (1926-2006) was not destined to pursue a career in politics. Her father worked as a porter at the 'National' hotel in Lucerne, later as caretaker at a bank. Before marrying, her mother was a 'Saaltochter', a position at a restaurant held by women, as the title suggests. An only child, she went on to study law at the University of Geneva before opening her own practice in Lucerne.
She experienced discrimination against women in Switzerland at close quarters in her legal work. Josi Meier described marriage law as patriarchal and later advocated for its renewal in Parliament. She was also particularly active in the areas of social and foreign policy.
Caption: Josi Meier, the first female president of the Council of States 1991/92 (Source: Walter Rutishauser, Photographer - The Library am Guisanplatz, Rutishauser Collection).
(The photo can be downloaded in two size formats.)
"Of course we know our place…"
Explaining her position, she argued that the issue of equal rights as a common cause for women should continue to be pursued with expertise, but also with wit. She immediately offered up an example as she acerbically picked apart the way in which women were portrayed citing old encyclopaedia articles and forms of address such as 'Fräulein'. Partnership instead of patronage was her ideal for the relationship between women and men.
Josi Meier ended her address by remarking that she finally understood the saying 'Women should know their place'. "Of course we know our place – our place is in the town council, in Parliament!"
Allowed herself to express her own opinion
One of her more pithy statements comes from an acceptance speech for an honour presented by the city of Lucerne in 1991. Josi Meier, who had never held a seat on a board of directors, said: "There are people who allow themselves a yacht or a racehorse. I allow myself to express my own opinion – it costs me about the same."
Josi Meier, a woman at the forefront of politics in Switzerland, undoubtedly performed pioneering work. Her political positions are still very relevant today.