Women Wear the Lederhosen

Monday, January 11th, 2010

I’ve had occasion recently to mention Switzerland, unfortunately in connection with that country supposedly “letting [itself] be pushed around.” I say “unfortunately” because such an assertion does not mix well with this other interesting article I’ve come across, by Adam Černý, in the main Czech business newspaper Hospodářské noviny: A troika of three women govern conservative Switzerland this year. No, I tell you that I do not want to make any connection of the one with the other!

In any event, it’s true: Doris Leuthard is now the Swiss president, while Erika Forster-Vanini is head of the upper chamber of the Swiss parliament and Pascale Bruderer is head of the lower. Even though Ms. Leuthard’s achievement should be seen in light of the Swiss practice of switching the presidency every year to a pre-determined member of the Federal Council, thus not by any election, it is nonetheless notable if only because the two previous women who have been Swiss president have been from the Left, of the Socialist Party. Ms. Leuthard is a Christian Democrat, the sort of right-wing German political formation more likely to feel that the age-old slogan Kinder, Küche, Kirche (“children, kitchen, church”) best encapsulates all that women should really worry their pretty little heads about.

The fact of three women now occupying the top Swiss governing functions is further striking because, as the HN headline notes, it’s a particularly conservative country. You might have heard how its citizens voted in November to forbid the building of minarets, and women there got the vote in the first place, on a country-wide basis, only in 1971. What is more, a full 30% of members of the Parliament are female. As Černý notes, that is a higher proportion than in the legislatures of the UK, France, Italy, and Austria. It may not be higher than the female-legislator rates in the Scandinavian countries, but there they employ quotas to boost their numbers from the distaff side, whereas the Swiss do not.

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