Happy Anniversary, ladies.

7 02 2011

Today is a very, very important 40th anniversary. It is the 40th anniversary of womens’ right to vote in Switzerland. Fortieth, you ask? Only the fortieth? Yes, folks, women in Switzerland have had the right to vote for less time than I have been alive.

Shocking, is it not? I certainly think so.

In the run-up to this anniversary, there have been a number of news reports about the referendum that took place forty short years ago. The vote was, of course, open only to men. Swiss men, not usually known for their progressive, open, liberal nature, had to decide if, in the future, women would be allowed to take part in the political process, or if 50 percent of the population would continue to live in silence. Fortunately, a majority of these men noticed that the times, they were a-changin’ (only seven years after the song was released) and voted “yes”.

In the recent news coverage, the media dug up a few classic referendum campaign posters, which I would not want to withhold from my international readership. They range from the simply unbelievable to the simply unbelievably absurd.

For the English-speakers among you, here just a quick German-English mini-dictionary of words used in the posters:

Frauenstimmrecht = Womens’ voting rights

Nein = No

So ladies – look and weep. This is what we would have had to deal with, had we been born a generation earlier, in Switzerland.

Interesting. No flies on my pacifier.

“Is this the kind of woman you want?"

(And… what kind of woman would that be? Possessed? Terrorized? Frazzled? Shell-shocked? Demented? Witch-like?)

"Leave us out of the game!"

(Somehow I can not believe this young woman actually volunteered to have her photo on this poster. And notice the very subtle claws…)


This last poster I find particularly disturbing, because it seems to me not only to support the “no” vote, but also to be advocating violence against women. Or maybe it just challenges the viewer to find 101 household uses for a carpet beater, at least one of which surely has to do with female suffrage.

I am simply aghast.

Fortunately, on that fateful Sunday in 1971, a majority of Swiss men had the good sense to decide that running the country alone was a miserable task. So they offered women the opportunity to join them in the political trenches. One lonely backwater Kanton in eastern Switzerland needed 20 more years to grant women the right to vote on regional issues. Today there are more women (4) in the federal cabinet than men (3), and so far, they seem to be rather successful at what they do.

In corporate life, however, there is still a veeeerrrrry looooong way to go. Don’t even get me started on that.

Women Matter

1 10 2010

Last week, Switzerland’s parliament elected two new members of cabinet to replace two elder gentlemen who had recently stepped down. There is now a female majority in the seven-member cabinet – four women and three men.  This, just 39 years after national female suffrage was introduced, and just 20 years after the last Swiss canton finally allowed its women to vote in local elections (as a result of a Supreme Court case, against the will of the canton’s men).

It’s a bit distressing to know that I live in an industrialized, first-world country where women have had the right to vote for less time than I have been alive.

Last Wednesday, the parliament had the opportunity to elect a fifth woman to the cabinet instead of a man, but I guess that was a little too much of a good thing for the (male-dominated) legislative body.

It's hard work, climbing a mountain.

I grew up in a household where I was told that pretty much anything was possible. My parents did their best to open doors for me, sent me to top schools, and told me I could go out and be whatever I wanted to be. But amid all their motivation, when it came time to strike out on my own, they were surely silently aghast at (and hopefully a little proud of) some of the decisions I made. I became a journalist and went to dangerous places, I learned to fly small airplanes, I expressed no interest in having or being around children.

My fortune would be found on the road less traveled by, my career would certainly not follow a straight line – of that I was convinced. By no means a trailblazer, I just wanted to do something unusual with this life, and saw no reason to do what people expected of me. Or to worry about what the neighbors and relatives would think. One uncle declared me lesbian when, at 30, I still wasn’t married.

An international management consultancy recently published a series of studies on the effectiveness of women in upper echelons of management. The main conclusion: the more women in positions of responsibility, the better a company does financially. Why? Because female managers use a wider range of techniques to motivate employees (like “inspiration”), thus improving performance. Very, very simple concept, folks.

Yet women continue to remain outside the old boys clubs, noses pressed to the windows, looking in. In order to advance up the ladder in the workplace, women are required to display the same dysfunctional patterns of behavior and play the silly power-games that men have cultivated for years. They must take on a dress code and a language which is often all too foreign to them. Sometimes other women are our own worst enemies – mistakenly thinking there is room for just a very few of us at the top.

Will the female-majority cabinet in Switzerland make a difference in the everyday lives of women here? Probably not. Misogynic attitudes don’t change in an instant, and the everyday challenges women face will not disappear overnight. Government business will go on as it has always has – with the exception that cabinet meetings might be a little more colorful in the future.

But it’s nice to see that we are finally getting somewhere, ten years into the 21st century. And boys, don’t worry – when we women end up ruling the world we promise not to silence you. Unlike some of you, most of us believe gender diversity is a good thing.