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Swiss women strike to protest gender pay gap, inequality

By
Nicholas Sakelaris
Working women gather around a bonfire in Basel, Switzerland, Friday to demonstrate to call attention to gender-based issues like unequal pay and sexual violence. Photo by Georgios Kefalas/EPA-EFE
Working women gather around a bonfire in Basel, Switzerland, Friday to demonstrate to call attention to gender-based issues like unequal pay and sexual violence. Photo by Georgios Kefalas/EPA-EFE

June 14 (UPI) -- Working women across Switzerland went on strike Friday to protest what they say is the government's resistance to gender equality and equal pay.

On average, Swiss women earn 20 percent less than men and are under-represented in management positions, they argue. To complicate matters, childcare is expensive with very few options. A survey by the International Labor Organization ranked Switzerland near the bottom when it comes to gender-based pay gaps.

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Events Friday were planned for Bern, Sion and Lausanne. Some women said they wouldn't work at all, while others planned to leave in the afternoon after completing just 80 percent of their shifts.

This strike honors a famous 1991 strike that marked the 20th anniversary since Swiss women were given the right to vote at the federal level. It called for protections against workplace discrimination and harassment, which would come five years later in Switzerland's Gender Equality Act.

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Advocates are promoting the walkouts online, with tags #Frauenstreik and #GrevedesFemmes -- the word for women's strike in German and French.

"In 2019, we are still looking for equality, and realize that there has to be a lot more than this -- the culture of sexism is part of everyday life in Switzerland," said organizer Clara Almeida Lozar. "It's invisible, and we are so used to getting along that we hardly notice it is there."

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The nation's working women considered a strike in 2011, but the movement didn't gain enough steam. Organizers say Friday will be different.

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"To succeed, a movement needs an emotional energy to it. This energy has now accumulated," historian Elisabeth Joris said. "There is a huge generation of young women in their 20s and 30s that favors feminism."

The Swiss Railways asked employees to give advance notice if they planned to strike, and have printed t-shirts to support the cause.

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