The Federal Council plans concrete measures for promoting gender equality in its 2019–2023 Legislature Planning. Switzerland will also continue to do its part in implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Agenda 2030. Gender equality and the rights of women and girls are priority topics on the Swiss domestic and foreign policy agenda over the coming years. The remit of the Federal Office for Gender Equality FOGE is based on legislation prohibiting discrimination and upholding equality between the sexes.
In its activities, the FOGE strives to implement equality before the law as well as equality in practice. Its activities are divided into three main areas: labour, domestic violence, and law and international affairs.
Wherever possible, the FOGE seeks to cooperate with other federal offices, cantonal conferences and committees, specialist and umbrella organisations, professional organisations, employers’ organisations and non-governmental organisations.
Law and international affairs
The key legal instrument for achieving equality in the world of work is the Gender Equality Act (GEA). An ongoing analysis of decisions by the Federal Supreme Court based on the GEA provides information on how effectively the law protects against discrimination in working life, with a focus on wage discrimination, sexual harassment and discrimination on grounds of pregnancy and maternity.
In order to promote application of the Gender Equality Act, the FOGE informs organisations, professional circles and the wider public on specific issues of the law, such as sexual harassment. When invited to do so by the Federal Supreme Court, it gives statements on cases brought before the court under the Gender Equality Act.
Parliament decided to revise the GEA in late 2018. This will now require employers with at least 100 employees to regularly conduct an equal pay analysis, which must then be assessed by an independent agency. The new GEA provisions and the associated ordinance come into force on 1 July 2020. The ordinance includes provisions on the training of equal pay analysis assessors. The FOGE is responsible for recognition of training courses run by third parties.
Although equality has largely been achieved in law in Switzerland, there are still areas in which the law treats men and women differently. A report is to be drawn up indicating which norms in federal law are still problematic.
Switzerland is required to submit its sixth periodic status report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at the end of 2020. The FOGE is currently working with the relevant federal bodies and the cantons on drawing up this report, which sets out the progress made and challenges faced in implementing the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
The FOGE represents Switzerland in various international bodies, such as the steering committee of the Equal Pay International Coalition and the Council of Europe’s Gender Equality Commission. It also participates in the sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which take place in New York each March. In advance of the fourth UN World Data Forum, to be held in Bern from 18 to 21 October this year, the FOGE is focusing closely on the issue of gender-specific data and statistics. In 2020 it will be involved in co-organising a number of international events to highlight the important role played by data and statistics in effective gender equality policies.
Gender equality at work is a key factor in achieving gender equality in all areas of our lives. Equal pay will once again be one of the FOGE’s main focuses in 2020. Swiss Federal Statistical Office figures show that in 2016 women earned on average CHF 1,455 less than men for the same number of hours worked. Reasons can be provided for 56% of this difference in pay, while 44% cannot be explained by objective factors. This injustice is felt by the whole of society: the loss of income puts household budgets under strain, and women and their families have smaller pensions.
One of the FOGE’s main tasks is oversight of businesses involved in public procurement. In 2020, 30 new controls will be introduced in companies that execute public contracts.
of the GEA mentioned above will have an impact on companies with more than 100 co-workers.
From 1 July 2020 onwards these companies will be required to conduct an equal
pay analysis by 30 June 2021, which must then by reviewed by an independent
body. The Confederation’s standard analysis tool (Logib) is currently
undergoing a technical update to reduce the administrative burden and enable
even more companies to use the tool. The first phase will be complete in mid-2020.
The public sector plays an exemplary role in promoting wage equality. The Charter for Equal Pay in the Public Sector, launched by Federal Councillor Alain Berset in 2016, has already been signed by most cantons and all major cities. The FOGE offers support to the cantons and communes in this regard.
The FOGE has around CHF 4.5 million at its
disposal annually to award to projects that improve equality between the sexes
at work in long-term, concrete situations. Both public and private sector
not-for-profit organisations may apply for this funding.
There can only be equality in a relationship if it is a non-violent one. Domestic violence is a widespread problem in Switzerland: in 2018, 18,522 domestic violence offences were registered with the police. Between 2009 and 2016, there was an average of 25 deaths and 50 victims of attempted murder every year. In 2018, 27 people died in Switzerland as a result of domestic violence, 24 of them women.
The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Suppressing of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) entered into force in Switzerland at the beginning of April 2018. The FOGE is the national coordinating body for the implementation of this Convention and in 2020 is drawing up the country report for the Council of Europe. It chairs the Confederation’s interdepartmental working group and sits on the joint federal and cantonal committee on the implementation of the Istanbul Convention.
On 13 November 2019 the Federal Council approved an ordinance on measures to prevent violent crimes against women and domestic violence. From 2021 onwards support can be provided to projects and organisations working to prevent such violence on the basis of this ordinance.
2020 the FOGE, the Federal Office of Justice FOJ and the Conference of Cantonal
Justice and Police Directors CCJPD will be holding a national conference on new
legal instruments to combat violence against women and domestic violence.