Thousands of Swiss women protest for equal treatment

Geneva: Thousands of women across Switzerland took to streets in protests demanding equal treatment and conditions compared with their male counterparts.

The protests organized by trade unions and civic organizations came almost three decades after a 1991 strike when women demanded that a constitutional article on equality of the sexes be written into legislation.

Swiss female politicians – mostly decked out in purple, the movement’s colour – on Friday streamed out of Parliament in the capital of Bern, where several thousand women were demonstrating, public broadcaster RTS reported.

Hundreds of marchers also blocked roads near the main train station in Zurich, the country’s financial centre.

Demonstrators in Geneva’s Parc Bertrand hoisted a banner showing that only 8 per cent of jobs in engineering were held by women in Switzerland, in contrast to 91 per cent of the country’s domestic help jobs.

The Swiss Federal Statistics office says women on average earned 12 per cent less than men – known as the gender pay gap – for similar work as of 2016, citing the most recent data available.

Later, thousands spread out on Geneva’s landmark Plainpalais square in a sea of purple.

In Lausanne, hundreds of women rallied at the city’s cathedral and marched downtown to set wooden pallets on fire, throwing items like neckties and bras into the inferno.

Swissinfo, the website of the national broadcaster quoted an estimate by the Swiss Trade Union Federation early evening on Friday putting the number at “hundreds of thousands” of people taking part before larger evening events had taken place, Xinhua news agency reported.

In 1991, there were no women in the Swiss government and there was no statutory maternity leave. Since then, there have been eight female government ministers and the right to maternity leave is part of the law.

The organizers said in their manifesto, “We want to promote Gender Equity and women’s rights.”

“We want a society based on equality and solidarity, without discrimination, without sexism and violence against women, regardless of the colour of our skin, our culture, our origin or religion, our passport, our sexual and gender identity, our age or social status.”

Several government members have also been active, including Interior Minister Alain Berset, who released a silent video to highlight the problems faced by women in Switzerland, Swissinfo reported.

Transport Minister Simonetta Sommaruga was at a school in Lausanne to talk to the students about equality and she said young women were much more prepared to speak up now than in her days.

Swissinfo said that the protests were called a “strike”, but many women expressed concern about neglecting their workplaces in a country where such strike action is rare.

Organizers said that unequal treatment persists — including lower pay with women on average earning 20 per cent less than men, while they face professional and daily condescension, and societal glass ceilings.