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  • People rallied in the capital of Switzerland, Bern demanding an end to the wage gap on Sept. 22, 2018.

    People rallied in the capital of Switzerland, Bern demanding an end to the wage gap on Sept. 22, 2018. | Photo: Twitter/Les Verts Suisse

Published 23 September 2018

Immediately after the successful march for women's rights, a regional Swiss canton, St. Gallen, voted in favor of a burqa ban on Sunday.

Around 20,000 people marched through the streets of Bern, the Swiss capital on Saturday demanding the end of the pay gap between genders. Switzerland’s largest union Unia, which is made up of over 40 collectives, helped organize the Saturday march.

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They said that women were "sick of sexism and discrimination" and "sick of wage inequality" and threatened to strike if Swiss parliamentarians did not fix the pay gap between sexes.

The protest took place right before a parliamentary amendment debate on Monday that is aimed at imposing more oversight over wage distribution at large companies. The Swiss government asked legislators to introduce oversight into how salaries are set in an attempt to reduce the pay gap.

The parliament also asked that any company with more than 50 employees will be required to provide wage equality details to an independent entity for verification every four years.

Women, in the country, still earn 20 percent less on average than men.

Corrine Scharer, a member of Unia's board of directors said: "Even if you take into account all of the regular excuses and you only compare women and men in the exact same position with the same professional experience, the fact remains that a woman in Switzerland is cheated out of (US$313k) over the course of a career, just because she is a woman".

The union and other activist groups have called for a strengthened version of the oversight bill. They want women who were discriminated against, to be compensated as well as fines instituted for companies that have already differentiated between sexes in terms of wages.

Such a push for equality in the country comes as nearly 67 percent of voters in the northeastern Swiss region voted in favor of prohibiting all face-covering garments in public spaces on Sunday. This is the second Swiss region to do so after the southern canton of Ticino which banned any types of face-covering veils two years ago.

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Anyone who wears the veil will be fined, according to the new law. St Gallen lawmakers late last year adopted a text which stipulated that "any person who renders themselves unrecognizable by covering their face in a public space, and thus endangers public security or social and religious peace, will be fined". The law passed the regional Parliament with support from the populist right and center parties.

The text was drafted after an uproar in the canton rose due to a girl wearing a face veil to school. The same was deemed problematic by Fredy Fassler, a socialist in charge of security and justice in St. Gallen. The text did not define what is constituted as danger and critics "worry the sanctions will be unpredictable and arbitrary", he told the daily newspaper, Le Temps.

Due to a referendum demanded by the Green Party and Young Socialists, the issue was put up for public vote as per the tradition of direct democracy in Switzerland.

Voters, across Switzerland, are expected to be called to vote on the issue of a burqa ban after the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party gathered 100,000 signatures that are needed to put an issue to a referendum.

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