Update: 14.12.2016

The CEDAW Committee calls for more systematic Swiss action

On 18 November 2016, the CEDAW Committee published its criticism of and suggestions for Swiss gender equality efforts. It recommends reinforcing the existing equality institutions so they can more effectively further gender equality. Switzerland has been asked to develop a national gender equality strategy and action plans to implement it. Furthermore, it has been asked to create an independent human rights institution that meets international specifications.

Existing problems and new recommendations

In November 2016, the UN CEDAW reviewed Swiss efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women for the third time since 2003. It published a 17-page document containing some praise but also various criticism and numerous recommendations.

The present recommendations address some of the same problems from the first two report cycles: discrimination of women in working life (e.g. unequal pay, unequal job opportunities, the overrepresentation of women in part-time jobs, unpaid care work), the problem of domestic and sexual violence against women and the widespread impunity for offenders, problems related to trafficking in women and girls and the unequal distribution of power between men and women in political and public life.

The Committee also asked Switzerland explicitly to take action to effectively fight the discrimination of disadvantaged groups of women (migrants, women seeking asylum, members of ethnic minorities such as Muslimas, travellers, and undocumented women) and to guarantee the resident status of foreign women in case of domestic violence.

Switzerland has been asked more explicitly than in 2009 to increase the protection of women and girls from female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and forced marriage (so-called harmful practices).

The CEDAW Committee also recommends that Switzerland protect children with ambiguous genitalia from unnecessary medical and surgical operations. Switzerland must create legislation that prohibits such operations and that compensates children who undergo such operations without their consent.

In the Health chapter, the Committee addressed the problems of LGBTI persons and recommends that Switzerland reconsider and simplify access to sex reassignment treatments and surgery for transgender persons.

Recommendations on foreign policy topics

For the first time, the CEDAW Committee has addressed foreign policy and its effects on gender equality following the NGO reports. The Committee recommends that Switzerland protects human rights defenders and includes gender perspective in conflict and violence prevention and in the prevention of violent extremism or arms trade (especially small arms trade).

Furthermore, Switzerland has been asked to investigate the effects of financial secrecy and business tax on women’s rights outside Switzerland and to adjust its policy. It must also ensure that women’s rights are recognised and that the effects on women’s rights are considered during the negotiation of trade and investment agreements.

Create strategic instruments

The Committee recommends that Switzerland should apply a more planned and systematic approach to implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by creating national strategies and action plans. The Committee has two priorities: a general strategy to fight structural barriers to gender equality (as set out in target 5 of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development), and to embed gender mainstreaming strategies into all administrative action to control the distribution of resources and their effects on women’s rights.

Furthermore, an action plan against human trafficking (especially of women and girls) as well as a national strategy on disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of women must be developed. The Committee also calls for Switzerland to strengthen gender equality institutions on both federal and cantonal levels and to give them adequate resources and staff. The Committee also wants to see the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights consolidated and its knowledge in the field of gender equality improved.

Follow-up of the recommendations

The CEDAW Committee has asked Switzerland to provide a written report of a comprehensive national gender strategy and an action plan in two years’ time. These will allow fighting the underlying structural factors on which inequality between men and women are based. Multiple instances of discrimination against women and girls must also be addressed. The Committee also wants to know whether or not a national action plan on the fight against gender-based violence has been created.

The Committee would like an interim report on whether or not the existing equal opportunities offices and commissions on cantonal and federal levels have been improved and have received the necessary financing called for in the CEDAW recommendations. Finally, the Committee would like to know the results of the study on the effects of the present pension system on low-income couples.

Switzerland will provide its sixth report to CEDAW in November of 2020.


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