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Last update on September 01, 2020

Would you like a madame or monsieur portion? We highlight examples of Swiss sexism that linger in everyday life, as well as a history of women’s rights in Switzerland.

Lady size portions and unequal pay: sexism in Switzerland lives on. Three times in the past few months I found Swiss restaurants that think it’s ok to refer to smaller portions as ones for the ladies. It’s like opening a menu and transporting back 40 years in time.

Maybe they thought they were being ironic, or even funny, but it didn’t work. For me, it felt rather odd to ask for a ‘Madame’ portion simply because I wasn’t very hungry that day. How demeaning for them to have to order a ‘Monsieur’ portion because they want a standard one. Why not just write ‘small’ beside the cheaper one?

In Graubünden, the Swiss couple at the table behind us ordered one of each size, but refused to use the labels; as the man said to the waitress, I would like a small portion, not a lady’s one. Even a sushi takeaway in Zurich finds it necessary to call the small box of sushi ‘lady size’.

Gendered food portions in Switzerland: sexism or a political point?

But perhaps these restaurants are actually making a political point. They know that women earn less than men; as a result, they label the marginally cheaper portions as female ones so that women can conserve their hard-earned francs. In Switzerland, the pay difference between men and women is 18.4%, even though both do the exact same job. Did you get that? Same job, less pay just for being a woman.

Unequal pay in Switzerland

Those campaigning for equal pay for equal work came up with a great video to highlight this disparity. Men using an ATM at one Zurich bank received 20% less money than they asked for. Press the button for 100 francs and only get 80. That really brings home what Swiss women face in the workplace.

So what, you might think. You might even agree with Frau Blocher, the wife of SVP godfather Christoph, who said in an interview that many mothers work when it’s not financially worth it; they do it only because it is fashionable. Never mind wanting to work or even needing to work. Of course, it helps if you marry a billionaire. Then you can cast judgment on other families’ situations because you live in your ivory tower, paid for by your husband.

A history of sexism in Switzerland

Women in Switzerland haven’t had an easy time of it. Until 1978, a Swiss woman lost her citizenship after marrying a foreigner; her children also couldn’t claim their Swiss nationality through her, even if they were born in Switzerland. It took until 1992 to change the first part of that law so that Swiss women stayed Swiss no matter who they married. It took until 2003 to eliminate discrimination regarding children.

And Swiss women famously didn’t get the vote at the federal level until 1971. In some respects, they have made up for lost time quite quickly, with three women in the Federal Council; on the other hand, women make up only 21% of the members of the Federal Parliament. That figure puts Switzerland behind the European average of 25% but 35th in the overall international rankings.

So liebe Schweizerinnen, I look forward to the day when you earn the same wage for the same job. When you are not told that your children will suffer because you want to work. Or when potential employers don’t ask about your plans for pregnancy. And when you are not patronized for having a smaller (or larger) appetite. When, in fact, you are equals in your own country.