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UN committee detects discrimination against women in Switzerland

Poor representation of women in all social domains, widespread gender stereotypes, unfair taxes for married couples, heavy financial burden for women after a divorce, insufficient resources for battered women's shelters and problematic integration requirements in the new immigration law for female migrants – there are numerous and multifaceted areas where Switzerland can improve its elimination of discrimination against women. These conclusions can be drawn from the recently published Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in behalf of Switzerland (CEDAW).

Multiple discriminations against immigrated women

At the end of July 2009, CEDAW screened the third periodic review of Switzerland. According to NGOs and media, the Swiss delegation had to state its position, during a hearing with UN experts, on wage inequality, poor participation of women in politics and economy, the compatibility of family and career as well as the problems of implementation due to federalism.

According to InfoSud, CEDAW seemed deeply concerned about the multiple discriminations against female migrants. Their access to the labour market and to services in healthcare is particularly impeded. Moreover, they are affected more frequently by domestic violence, genital mutilation and women trafficking, especially for prostitution purposes. CEDAW requests Switzerland to implement proactive procedures regarding these issues.

Among other things, the UN has demanded that Switzerland takes action to eliminate gender stereotypes in schools and education. This point was brought by the NGO Coordination Post Beijing Switzerland, which attended the CEDAW's 44th session in New York as a four persons delegation. The CEDAW also pressed for action against the poor representation of women in politics, economy and science as well as against violence against women. Domestic violence and the scarce victim protection regarding trafficking in women were topics at the conference. Furthermore, the Committee phrased recommendations to improve the compatibility of family and career as for instance the availability of day-care places, a parental respectively paternity leave as well as wage equality and the divorce law.

A two persons delegation of the Federal Commission for Women’s Issues (FCWI) was heard by the CEDAW. Previous to the conference, the non-parliamentarian commission had already handed in a written statement.

CEDAW's recommendations

The Committee's recommendations can be downloaded from the OHCHR website since the 20 August 2009. The CEDAW expressed its opinion to all the issues mentioned above and explicitly listed the procedures Switzerland should accomplish. The recommendations are formulated in a cautious manner, due to the fact that in the majority of cases the Committee only demands improved monitoring, data collecting, awareness campaigns or the advancement of already started law revisions etc. (i.e. divorce law, familiy law, tax law, human rights institution).

Concerning the general handling of the convention by federal departments, parliaments and courts, the CEDAW is stricter. The UN experts criticise that Switzerland's review doesn’t refer to the Committee's recommendations made six years ago. They also regretted that the courts, in particular, do not acknowledge the legal status of the Convention. The jurisdiction of the Federal Court perceives that the UN Convention does not generate effective equality. What matters in this context is that the CEDAW specifically encourages Switzerland to legislate so called temporary special treatments to improve the representation of women in federal/official departments (for instance quotas).

Actions the Federal Council should take

The CEDAW did not accept the Federal Council’s consideration that federalism impedes a rapid implementation. The Committee countered that the Federal Council must take responsibility for the entire implementation and attend to the duties, which evolve by signing the Convention. As an example, the Committee argues for the building of an office or a commissioner for gender equality in every canton. In addition, the Committee demands of Switzerland that all the institutions, which work for the improvement of the woman’s situation, are granted more authority, more visibility and sufficient financial resources. In this regard, the committee mentions that the Federal Council has to develop an integrated strategy for gender mainstreaming, which considers all social domains, including a concrete gender budget.

Update: 05.06.2013

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