“Votes for women? What a ridiculous idea!” Some of the arguments that male voters used in the past to prevent women the right to vote would seem unacceptable to most of us nowadays. However, many people would be surprised to read that the women of Switzerland received the right to vote in 1971, and yet canton Appenzell Innerrhoden resisted until 1991. Most male and female residents in that part of the country saw the law preventing women’s suffrage as one of their cultural traditions, along with voting by assembly in the town square. Only after two women filed suit with the Swiss Federal Court was the canton forced to extend suffrage to its female residents.
Some argued that women were less intelligent than men, that their brains were smaller than men’s. Others feared women would go out to campaign without asking their husbands’ permission. The point was also raised for equality because, they said, “women’s natural modesty would stop them going out to vote when pregnant, and since rural women have more babies than those in towns, this would give an unfair advantage to the latter.” “And if women were actually elected, that would be a source of humiliation for their husbands!”
Such were the arguments that convinced Switzerland’s male population to turn down every proposal to allow women the vote. In New Zealand women had the right to vote since 1893 and in most European countries since the end of World War I. Even though both chambers of the Swiss parliament finally gave the green light to women’s suffrage in 1958, more than 50 years after Europe’s pioneer Finland, when proposed to the people, two thirds of the male citizens turned parliament’s recommendation down.
But it wasn’t as if Swiss women had stood idly waiting for their rights to be given to them. Emilie Kempin-Spyri (1853-1901), Switzerland’s first woman lawyer, had claimed that the article of the Federal Constitution which stated “All Swiss are equal before the law” meant that men and women had equal rights. However, this assertion was rejected by the Swiss Federal Court.
The first feminist association was established in 1868, calling for civil rights, and the right to attend university. There had been proposals to include women’s suffrage in the 1874 constitution. In 1929 a petition for voting rights managed to collect a quarter of a million signatures—but it was ignored.
Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, which gave voters the final say on legislation, ironically kept women out. However, the extensive autonomy of even the smallest administrative units gave them their chance to break in to political life. It was a tiny commune in Canton Valais that, in 1957, was the first to allow its women members to vote. Several cantons gradually followed and in the 1960s women started occupying more and more important positions in local parliaments and governments. In 1968 Geneva, then the country’s third largest city, had a woman mayor—but she still couldn’t vote in federal elections.
When the human rights convention of the Council of Europe was signed, Switzerland remained out of those parts that call for sexual equality. The protest this provoked forced the government to revise its position and a new referendum was put to the country.
The result: on February 7th 1971 Swiss males finally gave their female compatriots the full federal voting rights by a two thirds majority. The official results showed 621,403 of the all-male electorate supported the vote for women and 323,596 were against.
Text adapted from Swissworld.org
- canton: One of the several states which form the Swiss Confederation.
- suffrage: vot / voto
- filed suit (to file suit): demandar, portar a judici / demandar, llevar a juicio
- turn down (to turn down): rebutjar / rechazar
- idly: inactiu / inactivo
- break in (to break in): entrar, introduir-se /entrar, introducirse
Choose the best answer according to the text. Only ONE answer is correct.
[4 points: 0.5 points for each correct answer. Wrong answers will be penalized by deducting 0.16 points. There is no penalty for unanswered questions.]
1. Women in Switzerland got their right to vote
- when female residents were accepted by assembly.
- thanks to two women who took legal action for it. X
- as part of their traditional rights.
- before canton Appenzell Innerrhoden accepted it.
2. In the text, which of these arguments for not giving women the right to vote is FALSE?
- Women were considered less intelligent than men.
- Women in rural areas had more advantages than urban women. X
- Pregnant women would be too shy to go out to vote.
- Men feared they would lose their control over women.
3. According to the text, when the Swiss parliament proposed to pass the vote for women in 1958,
- the majority of male voters rejected it. X
- all European countries had already given it the green light.
- only women in Finland had the right to vote.
- the arguments were not convincing at all.
4. The text explains that Swiss women
- had never become involved in political action before 1991.
- were peacefully waiting for their rights to be granted to them.
- had been fighting for their rights since the nineteenth century. X
- ignored the quarter million signatures petition for votes in 1929.
5. Although Switzerland’s system of direct democracy kept women out of their right to vote in federal elections,
- women started taking political posts in local government in the 1960s. X
- some small communities allowed women extensive autonomy.
- most cantons always resisted the legislation.
- in 1968 Geneva gave the first woman mayor the chance to vote.
6. At the human rights Convention of the Council of Europe, Switzerland
- demanded governments to change their position on equal vote.
- called on a referendum on equal vote in Europe.
- suggested to revise those parts on sexual equality.
- refused to sign the parts on sexual equality. X
7. According to Emilie Kempin-Spyri, the Swiss Federal Constitution
- should give more rights to women.
- gave equal rights to both men and women. X
- needed an article on equal rights.
- rejected her proposals before the Federal Court.
8. Swiss women finally gained full right to federal vote
- in spite of the criticism of the Federal Court.
- thanks to the claims of the first woman lawyer, Emilie Kempin-Spyri.
- when 50 % of male voters signed a petition.
- in the 1971 referendum, with more than 50 % of male voters. X