Switzerland interrupted: Hundreds of thousands of Swiss women go on nationwide strike

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Women in Switzerland walked off the job on Friday, staging demonstrations to demand fairer pay, more equality, and an end to sexual harassment and violence.

Discontent over sexism and workplace inequality is underpinning the “women’s strike,” while many are also demanding higher pay specifically for domestic workers, teachers and caregivers.

Switzerland lags behind many of its European neighbors in gender equality. Swiss women only got the vote in federal elections in 1971, decades after most of the western world, and until 1985 needed their husbands’ approval to work or open a bank account.

Statutory maternity leave was introduced only in in 2005, while professional women earn on average nearly 19% less than men – and 8% less with the same qualifications. According to a recent Amnesty International survey, 59% of Swiss women say they have experienced sexual harassment.

Friday’s events allude to protests on June 14, 1991, when hundreds of thousands of Swiss women left their jobs to condemn discrimination, 20 years after Swiss women won the right to vote and a decade after sexual equality became law.

Many women feel little real progress has been made since. “I think a lot of us thought change would just happen automatically after 1991,” said Marie-Laure Fabre, a temp agency manager. “But it hasn’t and it won’t. This goes very deep; it’s structural. We’re going to have to fight for what we deserve.”

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