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Last update on May 13, 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 have been confronted with Swiss restaurants that think it’s ok to refer to smaller portions as ones for the ladies. It’s like opening a menu and being transported back 40 years.

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 – let alone the fact that many women I know can eat just as much as me and sometimes more. How demeaning for them to have to order a ‘Monsieur’ portion purely because they want a standard not a smaller 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 ridiculous labels; as the man said to the waitress, I would like a small portion not a lady’s one. And even a sushi take-away in Zurich (also in Bern) 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, so they label the marginally cheaper portions as female ones so that women can conserve their hard-earned francs. In Switzerland the effective pay difference between men and women is 18.4 percent, even though both are doing exactly the 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 a ATM or money machine at one Zurich bank were given 20 percent 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 last year that many mothers work even though 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 are married to a billionaire. Then you can cast judgement 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. Rather shocking is that until 1978 if a Swiss women married a foreigner she automatically lost her Swiss citizenship; also her children could not claim their Swiss nationality through her but were classed as foreigners, 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, and until 2003 to eliminate all the discrimination regarding children.

And Swiss women famously didn’t get the vote at 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 percent of the members of Federal Parliament. That figure puts Switzerland behind the European average of 25 percent but 35th in the overall international rankings, way ahead of the UK (65th) and the USA (84th).

So liebe Schweizerinnen, I look forward to the day when you are paid the same wage for doing the same job. When you are not told that your children will suffer because you want to work. When you are not asked in a job interview about your plans for pregnancy (as happened to a friend of mine). When you are not patronised for having a smaller (or larger) appetite. When, in fact, you are treated as equals in your own country.