Female representation is a key topic in the October 2019 federal election campaign. All eyes are on the Council of States, as several female members are leaving the chamber. At cantonal level, the feminisation of political bodies continues: in 2018 there was a record number of women in cantonal parliaments.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) reports that the proportion of women in national parliaments has been declining since 2016. The picture in the Swiss parliament is more mixed. The number of women in the National Council has steadily increased since 1974, while in the Council of States it has decreased in the last two legislatures. Several female members of the Council of States are retiring: will the parties propose enough women to replace them?
At the end of 2018, 33% of the seats in the National Council were held by women (66 women and 134 men) compared to 15.2% of the seats in the Council of States (7 women and 39 men). In the 2015 elections, the proportion of women elected to the National Council exceeded the 30% mark for the first time, at 32%. In the Council of States, meanwhile, it fell to its lowest rate since 1991. The risk is high that the number of women in the Council of States will decline further in the 2019 elections.
PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT 1974–2018
Percentage of women in the National Council and the Council of States on 1 January in the given year.
PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN in the COUNCIL OF STATES (AS AT: 28.09.2018)
WOMEN MAKING SOME PROGRESS IN CANTONAL PARLIAMENTS AND GOVERNMENTS
At 27.9%, the proportion of women in cantonal parliaments is higher than ever before (2014–2018 period), according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO). Over the past two decades, women have made slow but steady progress: between 1996 and 1999, they represented 24.1% of elected officials, 24.2% between 2000 and 2003, and 26.5% between 2004 and 2007. But there are considerable differences between the cantonal parliaments, as elections held between 2012 and 2015 showed: in eight cantonal legislatures (BL, ZH, AG, BE, BS, SO, AI and VD) the proportion of women is now 30% and more, while in seven cantons (GR, UR, SZ, NW, GL, SH and VS) it is less than 20%.
In the cantonal governments, women currently hold 37 seats out of 154, an encouraging result considering that women were previously absent or poorly represented in these bodies. In 1983, Hedi Lang (SP/ZH) became the first female politician to be elected to a cantonal government. In 1991, there were only five women in cantonal governments in Switzerland, holding just 3% of the total number of seats.