Women’s suffrage in Switzerland

Source: CH-BAR#E1#1000/4#660*

On 7 February 1971, Switzerland’s all-male electorate granted the vote to the nation’s female citizens. Did this event bring an end to more than a century of struggle and Swiss exceptionalism, or did it signal the start of the real battle for gender equality? 

After the First World War, the prospects of achieving democracy in male-dominated Switzerland had looked fairly good. In 1929, the Swiss Association for Women’s Suffrage presented a petition in Bern signed by 170,400 women and 78,800 men. Parliament backed the petition, but the Federal Council chose not to pursue it. The first vote at federal level in 1959 failed by a large margin, with 67% of those who cast their ballots against. By that time, women had been given the vote across almost all of Europe. Women’s dogged persistence, social liberalisation and pressure from abroad helped turn the tide, and in 1971 most men voted yes, with one third still in the “no” camp.

The fonds of the Swiss Federal Archives offer an insight into the eventful history of women’s suffrage.

Dossiers E1070#1000/34#803* and E1070#1000/34#1591* contain the petitions from the action committee and the Swiss Association for Women’s Suffrage dating from 1929 and 1939 respectively.

Series E4110A#A.00 from the Federal Justice Department contains extensive dossiers documenting the debates of the 1950s and 1960s and highlighting the standpoints of the opposing sides: E4110A#1969/161#615* to E4110A#1969/161#663*. One key topic is the events leading up to the national votes on 1 February 1959 and 7 February 1971.

Also significant for the period 1941–1971 are series E4001C#0062 and E4001D#062 within the documents of the departmental secretariat of the Federal Department of Justice and Police. Series E4001E#0062 and E4010A#104.13.04 of the general secretariat of the Federal Department of Justice and Police are of interest for the years from 1972.

The debates of Swiss representations abroad are covered by the documents on position 324, including the Swiss representations in Bucharest (series E2200.15#324) and Milan (series E2200.212#324).


Last modification 04.02.2021

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