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  • A protester lights during a women's strike in Zurich, Switzerland, June 14, 2019.

    A protester lights during a women's strike in Zurich, Switzerland, June 14, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 June 2019

Despite being one of world's richest countries, Switzerland maintains discriminatory and violent practices against women.

Thousands of Swiss women Friday took to the streets at 3:24 pm to symbolize the moment at which they "stop being paid" due to the wage discrimination they suffer.

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"There are still many inequalities that we must change. Women have been fighting for equality and things are moving but too slowly," Stephanie, a 25-year teacher, said and explained that the Swiss culture still preserves many features of "sexism and prejudice against women."

In the labor markets of this European country, which is one of the world's richest nations and managed to achieve a US$80,188 per capita production in 2017, men earn 12 percent more than women, a figure which increases up to 18.5 percent in "greater responsibility" positions, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Concentrations, marches and sit-ins, which multiplied by the dozens across the country, used the color violet to represent their gender-equality demands.

The demonstrations began early in the day in Lausanne, a city where more than a hundred women gathered to light the "fire of joy," a bonfire in which they burned objects that promote discrimination.

In Zurich, the country's largest city, a giant clitoris was strolled through the streets on a chariot pulled by women, while hundreds of protesters staged a sit in the main thoroughfares, blocking the circulation of buses and trams.

In Bern, the capital of the country, about 5,000 women gathered in the middle of the afternoon in front of the government headquarters, while a higher number met in a large esplanade in the center of Geneva.

Unlike other European countries, Swiss family policy is long overdue. For example, Switzerland still offers no paternity leave, which means that the weight of the upbringing of newborns falls almost exclusively on mothers.

"Working mothers have a double shift, one at work and one at home because domestic chores are not evenly distributed," Patricia, a 55-year-old woman who joined the 1990s demonstrations that forced the constitutional recognition of gender equality, said and recalled that women's retirement pensions are precarious because they stop working to take care of their children.

In a country which is usually displayed as an example of political stability, Swiss families are forced to spend up to 11 percent of their monthly income to pay for the services provided by daycare centers.

In this politically conservative society, abortion was decriminalized only in 2002 and women were granted the right to vote only in 1971. Currently only 29 percent of the elected positions are occupied by women.

On June 14, 1991, about 500,000 Swiss women went also on a nationwide strike to denounce salary differences and enduring discrimination, despite the fact that equality was enshrined in the 1981 Constitution.

Five years later, the Switzerland Gender Equality Act came into force banning workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. It also protected women from biais or dismissal over pregnancy.

Despite all the above, the discrimination gap, that is labour differences that cannot be explained by role or rank, has worsened since 2000, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

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