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Swiss Feminist Strike 2023: Advocating Equality and Challenging Workplace Inequalities

On June 14, 2023, the annual Swiss Feminist Strike took place in cities all over the country. This event brought together social and political organizations, unions, and activists advocating for social change and political reform.

The Swiss Feminist Strike first took place on June 14, 1991. It was established with the goal of criticizing the hesitant implementation of the constitutional article attempting to create gender equality. The next strike occurred in 2011, followed by another one in 2019. The latter one became the largest, witnessing 500’000 demonstrators.

This year, the organizing committee made three main demands pertaining to financial and social revaluation of women's work, more time and resources for caregiving, and respect in the workplace. All these demands centred around the professional world, as the organizing committee considered that “the greatest inequalities originate in the workplace.” It also highlighted how the Gender Pay Gap and unpaid work were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The closure of schools forced many women to leave their part-time jobs to care for their children.

Although the official demands focused on the professional sphere, the public seemed to have other priorities. RTS reported Specialist in women’s history Pauline Milani’s words “The (public’s) demands are more rooted in the sphere of the body and the sphere of sexuality. There is a very strong emphasis on respect for all sexualities and all expressions of gender.”

According to the organizing committee, this year’s strike was a success, with a reported participation of 300'000 people throughout Switzerland. While the figures provided by the police were lower than the ones reported by the planning committee, they were still significant.  

It is important to note that the aim of these protests has always been political, and their impact on policy has often been substantial. For example, the first strike of 1991 is credited with influencing the implementation of the constitutional article on equality significantly. Additionally, the introduction of two weeks of paternity leave followed the 2019 Feminist Strike.

It seems like even though this year’s strike was considered a success, the special session on the theme of equality held in Parliament on Wednesday was not. All proposals, such as extending the law on equal pay in companies and stopping the pink tax, were rejected by the conservative Council of States.

Opponents of the strike, often from the right wing, argue that it is too left-wing and tied to the syndicates. Françoise Salamé Guex, President of the Women's PLR Vaud, states that the June 14 strike "represents a vision of society as seen by the left and the unions." In fact, the first strike was organized by the Union Syndicale Suisse, and the influence of unions on the protest remains significant.

Guex further states that the strike “can only divide rather than unite.” Many members of Parliament seem to support this claim because only women from the Socialist Party and the Greens wore purple during the session. The lack of support coming from women from all parties is a departure from 2019, when the majority of female parliamentarians wore purple to show their support for the movement.

In conclusion, this year’s Swiss Feminist Strike attracted numerous participants and garnered significant media attention, being extensively reported by both Swiss and foreign newspapers. Nevertheless, the current political repercussions remain minimal, as evidenced by the rejection of all proposals during the special session of Parliament.

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