diese Seite deutsch   
History of Switzerland: Introduction / Sitemap A Short History of Switzerland History of Switzerland: Detailed Timeline  Early Swiss History
Prehistory: Lake-dwellings in Switzerland Swiss History: Celtic Helvetians Switzerland during the Age of Romans, Aventicum Aventicum, Old Swiss Capital in the Age of Romans Switzerland during the Middle Ages  Old Swiss History
The Old Swiss Confederacy (1291-1515) William Tell (Switzerland's National Hero) The Swiss Reformation (Calvin, Zwingli)  A Modern Constitution
Swiss Revolution and Helvetic Republic (1798) Switzerland's Federal Constitution (1848) History of Switzerland's Flag Switzerland's Political System The Long Way to Women's Right to Vote  Industrialisation
Industrialisation in Switzerland Johanna Spyri: Heidi, the girl from the alps - A bestseller about times of change  World War II
World War II: General Timeline Switzerland's Role in World War II Spiritual Defense against Nazism Switzerland's Economic Dependence and Rationing Jewish Refugees Looted Assets Switzerland's Neutrality Switzerland's National Public Radio Station Beromünster  Country & People
Basic information about Switzerland - country profile Switzerland's Population and Languages Important Swiss monuments: pictures and meaning  Links
Links: History Swiss Museums Links: Switzerland

Switzerland's Long Way to

Women's Right to Vote

(In a direct democracy change takes a little longer)

Introduction of women's right to vote in some European / North American nations:
 1917 Soviet Union   1928 United Kingdom
 1918 Austria  1944 France
 1919 Germany  1945 Italy
 1920 USA  1971 Switzerland


1886 Fruitless petition of women in Zurich for women's right to vote
1893 The Swiss Association of Female Workers demands for women's right to vote
1904 Switzerland's Social Democratic Party integrates the demand for women's right to vote into their new platform.
1909 Several regional associations form the Swiss Association for Women's Right to Vote that pleads for all aspects of equal rights for women.
1912 The Social Democratic Party demands for women's right to vote in canton St. Gallen. The motion gets blocked by a majority of liberal and conservative members of parliament. Similar parliamentary initiatives in cantons Basel, Bern, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Zurich and Vaud are fruitless as well.
1918 After World War I, women's right to vote is one of the central demands in the general strike.
1919 Switzerland's parliament instructs the government to prepare the introduction of women's right to vote. The government does not start with this job for decades.
1919-1921 Women's right to vote is rejected in several cantonal referendums (Geneva, Neuchâtel, Basel, Zurich, Glarus and St. Gallen).
1920-1929 Conservative women unite and plead for division of work between men and women: "Women should stay at home".
1929 A petition by several assciations of women, by the Social Democratic Party and by the trade unions for women's right to vote cannot move anything.
1929-1939 World economic crisis: women are sent back to the kitchen. The situation is not favourable for women's rights.
1939-1945 World War II: while most Swiss men serve as soldiers of the Swiss Army for several months per year, women keep Switzerland's economy going.
1946-1951 After World War II there is some sort of political awakening, old demands like the introduction of a social security system and the integration of the Social Democratic Party into the broad coalition government are possible now. But women have to wait. Even in progressive cantons like Basel, Geneva, Ticino, Zurich, Neuchâtel, Solothurn and Vaud referendums bring negative results.
1951 The federal government presents a report to the parliament saying that it was not time for women's right vote on the federal level while it was rejected in all cantonal referendums.
1957 A cantonal referendum in Basel allows the introduction of women's right to vote on local level.
1957 "Cold War": Switzerland's government fears a communist attack, prepares for better air-raid precautions and wants to introduce a general duty of service as air-raid wardens for women. Now the politicial associations of women protest loudly against new duties without new rights. The government gives in and prepares a law for the introduction of women's right to vote.
1958 The conservative opponents to women's right to vote accept the law in parlament for tactical reasons: If the new law is rejected in a referendum now, it will take years or even decades before a new referendum on this question will be possible.
1959 Public campaign on the referendum: Only the Social Democratic Party, the trade unions, a very small independent party and the Communist Party support women' right to vote, the major liberal and conservative parties remain undecided, the right wing parties and even some rural association of women oppose it.
1959 A majority of Switzerland's men say no in a national referendum on women's right to vote on February, 1st: 654,939 (67%) no vs. 323,727 (31%) yes. In some smaller cantons in central and eastern Switzerland the no-majority reaches more than 80%, in Appenzell Innerrhoden even 95%. Only three French speaking western cantons say yes: Vaud (51%), Neuchâtel (52%) and Geneva (60%). Vaud introduces women's right to vote in a referendum on cantonal and local level. Neuchâtel follows in September 1959, Geneva in 1960.
1959 Conservative women found a Federation of Swiss Women against Women's Right to Vote
1966 First cantonal referendum in favor of women's right to vote in a German speaking canton: Basel-City.
1968 Basel-Land follows Basel-City
1969 Canton Ticino (Italian speaking, southern Switzerland)
1962 Switzerland's federal government wants to join the European Council and to sign the European Convention on Human Rights for geo-political reasons (Cold War!) but Switzerland does not keep up to the European standards ...
While the government proposes to declare an exception concerning women's right to vote, some progressive associations of women protest loudly.
1968 Student's revolts against conservative structures all over western Europe - and the open protest is only the top of the iceberg: western society is changing.
Switzerland's government decides to hold a referendum on women's right to vote once again.
1971 Finally on February, 7th women's right to vote is accepted in Switzerland with a majority of 621,109 (66%) yes vs. 323,882 (34%) no. But in central and eastern Switzerland there are still seven cantons with a no-majority. Four more cantons introduce women's right to vote on cantonal and local level by referendums: Fribourg, Schaffhausen, Zug and Aargau.
1971 Parliamentary elections (October, 31st: 11 women (5,5%) are elected members of parliament.
1985 Referendum on a revision of the constitution: Equal rights for men and women accepted with 797,702 yes vs. 525,885 no votes.
1984 First woman elected member of Switzerland's government.
1985 Referendum on a revision of the Civil Code: Equal rights for men and women in the family are accepted with 921,743 yes vs. 762,619 no votes.
2004 Referendum on a law to introduce a paid maternity leave accepted

Cantonal Level

While the majority of cantons introduced women's right to vote shortly before or shortly after the confederation did in 1971, two conservative half-cantons in eastern Switzerland, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden refused to do so for a long time. During the 1980's pressure of public opinion increased. The men of Appenzell Ausserrhoden thought it might be better to change their laws themselves and they did so in 1989. But in Appenzell Innerrhoden nothing changed.

Neither the first written constitution (Helvetic Republic (1798)) nor the 1848 Federal Constitution had been really explicit about the question whether the word "citizen" was to be interpreted only concerning men or whether it would include women too (as it obviously did in other fields). For a long time it was generally accepted, that the tradition should be changed only after an explicit referendum. But when the men of Appenzell Innerrhoden gave signs that they would still not accept what was long overdue some women filed suit for their right to vote and they succeeded.

The Federal Supreme Court decided on November, 27th, 1990 that the introduction of women's right to vote in Appenzell Innerroden would not need a change of the cantonal constitution. The judges declared that it would be sufficient to interpret the existing constitution in a way that the women were included in the term citizens. The Federal Supreme Court refered in its argumentation to article 8 of the Federal Constitution that had been altered in a 1981 national referendum so that it now grants equal rights not only to all citizens (as in the 1848 original version), but expressly to men and women.


It seems that the introduction of major changes in society is easier when the system is changed altogether: The Soviet Union, Austria and Germany (1917-1919) introduced women's right to vote together with the abolition of monarchy, while it took longer to modify an established and functioning democratic tradition (UK 1928, France 1944, Switzerland 1971).

The example of women's right to vote shows that democracy is not generally more progressive as other forms of government. If a majority of the population is well accustomed to certain basic rules and if these rules work reasonably well common people even tend to stick more to these reliable rules than members of parliament and government would do - even if these rules are very unjust for some individuals or even major groups.

On the other hand, changing rules alone is only the one half of the process of change - the new rules must be known and accepted by a broad majority of the population to become effective. Direct Democracy does help to raise a discussion on rules in the families, at work and in other places ordinary people meet each other. Experts are forced to explain the necessity for change not only to a small number of people (members of government and parliament) but to everybody. This is very helpful to ensure that (almost) everybody will understand the need for change.

GESCHICHTE-SCHWEIZ.CH © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved