Swiss Women Waited till 1971 to get their Voting Rights

When Swiss women asked for the right to vote, Swiss men said no. In some areas, they kept saying no-till the 1990s. Switzerland is known for its direct and bottom-up democracy. To this day, in order to amend the national constitution, the entire nation must vote. Constitutional rights aren’t changed by legislators; change requires national referendums. Making us wonder how a country like this can deny women their right to vote that too till 1971!? The demand for women’s voting right started in the early years of the 1880s. Swiss women had asked the voters—meaning men—to give them the right to vote. And the men kept saying no. They were exercising their democratic right to deny voting rights to their mothers, daughters, and sisters.

In 1928, when the British women got full voting rights, Swiss women organised a parade in the city of Bern. They rolled out a giant model of snail depicting the slow speed at which their basic right was being purportedly denied.

Photography by Gosteli Archive


Situated at the heart of Europe, highly industrialized and educated, surrounded by states that had years before granted women the vote, Switzerland kept saying “no” to the voting right of their women.

Not so surprisingly anymore, for centuries, husbands had legal authority over their wives’ savings in Switzerland. A woman told London Independent: “In the 1970s, I had a bank account in my son’s name. I tried to go and buy something, and they told me I needed the signature of my man.” She was furious. But that was the law. It didn’t change until a national referendum in 1985. Interestingly, Swiss men started voting in 1291. They created a modern constitution in 1848. By one measure, women had to wait 143 years to get the vote. By another, the men didn’t change their minds for almost seven centuries.

On February 7, 1971, with 66 per cent in favour and 34 per cent still against, Swiss women got their voting right.

One Canton, Appenzell Innerrhoden, kept voting against women’s suffrage in 1973, 1982, and again in 1990 even though in 1990, the Swiss Supreme Court forced every canton to comply with a federal Equal Rights Amendment. It was only after four local women who filed a legal complaint that the federal government had to impose the changes in Appenzell Innerrhoden in 1991. Yes, some of the Swiss women waited until 1991 to get their rights.

By Ruth Jane

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