Swiss Federal Council enjoys female majority

Sept. 22 saw the election of a fourth woman to Switzerland’s Federal Council, creating a female majority at the highest level of national politics.

It is only one in five countries worldwide to do so, a surprising statistic considering Switzerland was one of the last European nations to grant female suffrage in 1971. The first female cabinet member was not elected until 1984.

Simonetta Sommaruga, a member of the Swiss Social Democratic party, was elected following four rounds of voting by parliamentarians in the Federal Assembly, beating her opponent of the Swiss People’s party, Jean François-Rime, by an absolute majority of 159 votes to 81.

She succeeds former Minister Moritz Leuenberger, who retired following 15 years of government work. Also elected was Johann Schneider-Ammann, who replaced Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz. The political orientation of the seven member council did not change.

Critics have suggested that Switzerland has yet to achieve equality in many other parts of society. However, many are hopeful that this great symbolic action will prompt change in other such lacking areas, such as the professional workplace.

“I think it’s really, really important as a model because there’s a lot of research to suggest that having underrepresented people … in political life at all levels… is beneficial to those groups,” commented Juanne Clarke, sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier.

Along with having a female majority of council members, the current member to have the rotating presidency is a woman, and each house of parliament has a female leader.

All seven positions will be up for re-election next year and it is difficult to anticipate whether this development in Swiss politics will continue into a trend for the future. “When women are represented in positions of power in a society, women’s overall health improves,” added Clarke.

Not all in Switzerland are so pleased by the election result. There is discussion of a global antifeminism conference to be held in October due to concerns that the amount of women in politics could have detrimental effects to Swiss Society. The conference is being organized by Swiss activist Rene Kuhn.

However, while the female majority is undoubtedly positive, said Angela Rooke, a Ph.D. candidate at York University, it is a very incomplete measure of the status of women in the country.

“Ultimately, I wonder what’s more important: having equal representation of ‘women’, which often means middle-class, educated and white women, in cabinets and parliaments,” she questioned, “or, having a government whose policies are designed to afford all women equality of opportunity, by recognizing that not all women’s needs are the same.”

Women in politics

45 of the 80 seats in Rwanda’s national government consists of women, making it the highest percentage of any country.

Canada sits at 51st place in having the greatest percentage of women in national government in comparison to countries around the world. Currently, women hold 68 of the 308 federal seats, or 22 per cent.

Among countries with a presidential system, Bolivia holds the highest percentage of women in office, with 17 of 36 positions, or 47 per cent.
Women make up only 19.3 per cent of the national members of parliament world wide

Nordic states average at the highest level of women in parliament, with 42.1 per cent representation, while the Arab States report the lowest at 11.1 per cent

–Statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Data as of July 2010

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