Women in Switzerland were only given the right to vote on a federal level in 1971, a time when every single European country had given women the franchise decades prior, and a time when pretty much every country in the world had done so.

Not only that, but in the referendum of 1971 that enfranchised women, only 65.7% of men (only men could vote) voted in the affirmative to allow women to vote, while 34.3% voted in the negative. In 8 cantons of the then 25, less than 50% of voters voted in the affirmative for women's suffrage, as this map shows.

Yes, it's true that at the canton level some cantons allowed women to vote as early as 1959 on local issues, but I consider this still extremely late as every single European country, except for two microstates, had already achieved this. Also, in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden women weren't allowed to vote for local issues until a law suit was brought by two women and won, resulting in the Swiss Federal Court decision in 1991 to allow women to vote in that canton.

I'm very surprised to hear this, and I can't understand why a country like Switzerland denied this basic right to women when pretty much every other single country in the world had removed this outdated restriction. I thought that equal women's suffrage had been an issue which had been fought and settled in "the West" (let's call it) mostly between the start of last century and about the end of WW2.

Is there something particular to Switzerland for why it trailed so far behind other "Western" countries in this regard, and also for why even at 1971 less than two thirds of men voted to extend the franchise to women?

Also, I'm not sure if this question is more suited to the History SE.


A few reasons:

  1. Voting in the Swiss system is tied inextricably to military service: according to the 1848 constitution, paragraph 18, if you can vote, you must serve.

  2. Bad timing. By the time the universal suffrage movement took off, WWI happened. Then when it tried to start again, WWII happened. Then when they finally got things good and ready for women to enter mandatory civil service in the late 50's, a scandal within civil service made it look like it was extremely unsafe for women to be there.

  3. The Swiss system is much more decentralized than other European nations such that individual electors hold a great deal of sway, as opposed to a representative system that could make the decision. All electors were men, and they voted 67% in 1958 to deny women's suffrage. It took each individual canton approving universal suffrage over a period of around 15 years to force the electors to re-address the issue.

  • Thank you. The constitution was revised in 1874, and article 18 just says that "(1) Every Swiss is under the obligation to perform military service." I haven't seen anywhere that women weren't considered citizens, which according to the Constitution would require women to "perform military service" anyway, so Point 1 I don't understand exactly. Point 3 about Switzerland being more decentralised I'm not exactly sure explains why so few voters didn't want to enfranchise women in a national referendum. From my reading it seems that this was more because of conservative views among the people.
    – Zebrafish
    Dec 29 '18 at 2:32
  • 1
    @Zebrafish The idea of women in the army was unthinkable until a few decades ago, so point 1 was a strong issue. You're seeing it from a modern perspective, but the reasoning back then was like "If you want to vote you must serve as a soldier; women can't be soldiers, therefore, women can't vote". And "women can't be soldiers" was a fact like "sky is blue".
    – Rekesoft
    Jan 2 '19 at 9:13
  • @Rekesoft "If you want to vote you must serve as a soldier". I'd like to see where you draw this information from. The only relevant part even close to this is in Article 18 of the constitution, "(1) Every Swiss is under the obligation to perform military service", which does not tie voting rights to military service, just citizenship. For this argument to be correct you'd have to show that "Every Swiss" excluded women from this definition. The link in the answer for point 1 doesn't contain any information about voting rights being bound to military service.
    – Zebrafish
    Jan 2 '19 at 11:48
  • @Zebrafish Actually, by the word of the letter it's even harsher than that: women aren't Swiss.
    – Rekesoft
    Jan 2 '19 at 11:54
  • @Rekesoft I don't understand, women aren't Swiss? Article 4(2) "Men and women have equal rights. The law shall provide for their equal treatment, especially as regards family, education and work." Women aren't Swiss?
    – Zebrafish
    Jan 2 '19 at 11:59

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