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June 15, 2019

A sea of purple!: Swiss women rise up for equal pay


June 15, 2019

Purple-clad protesters blowing whistles, banging pots and pans and brandishing feminist slogans filled the streets of Swiss towns and cities on Friday, as women across the country went on strike for equal pay.

"I love ba...s women" and "Eliminate the patriarchy" figured among the messages on posters and banners, as women poured into the streets to vent their frustration with persistent gender discrimination and wage gaps in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The strike comes nearly three decades after women held the country’s first nationwide strike for equal pay. Thousands of women dressed in purple -- the colour chosen to show solidarity with the cause -- filled the square in front of the government and parliament buildings in Bern on Friday morning.

Swiss Defence Minister Viola Amherd, flanked by a large group of women MPs draped in purple, including one wearing boxing gloves, joined the demonstrators briefly as Parliament took a 15-minute break to mark the occasion.

"It’s wonderful! We are here to make noise, because if we’re not seen, we don’t exist," Socialist MP Ada Marra told the RTS broadcaster in Bern. Pram marches, whistle concerts and giant picnics were planned around the country, with the day’s events set to culminate in giant demonstrations in several cities.

In Lausanne, the events kicked off overnight, with women ringing the bells of the cathedral, which was lit up in purple, and lighting a "bonfire of joy", with some women tossing in their bras. By morning, some 500 people gathered for a massive breakfast celebration, blocking traffic on one of the town’s main bridges.

In Zurich, demonstrators pulled a giant, pink symbol perched on a cart through the city, while in Basel they projected the clenched-fist feminist symbol onto the skyscraper headquarters of pharmaceutical giant Roche.

And in Geneva, protesters replaced street signs bearing men’s names with women’s ones. While 548 streets in Geneva Canton are named after men, only 41 have female names, according to the ATS news agency.

The events come exactly 28 years after half a million women walked out of their workplaces or homes across Switzerland to protest persistent inequalities, on June 14, 1991. That was 10 years after equality between the sexes was enshrined in the Swiss constitution. But the organisers of Friday’s events say things have barely improved since then, insisting women need to demand "more time, more money, more respect". Women in Switzerland on average still earn 20 percent less than men.

And for men and women with equal qualifications, the wage gap remains nearly eight percent, according to the national statistics office. "Wage equality has not been achieved. That is a good reason to go on strike," Ruth Dreyfuss, who in 1998 became Switzerland’s first female president, told broadcaster RTS on Friday.

Riding the wave of the global #MeToo movement, a new generation of women is attacking the lingering issues of discrimination, harassment sexual abuse and wage inequality with renewed vigour.

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