The legislation that prohibits discrimination and upholds the principle of gender equality forms the basis for the activities of the Federal Office for Gender Equality FOGE. The Federal Council, in its 2015-2019 Political Agenda and 2016-2019 Sustainable Development Strategy, plans concrete actions for promoting gender equality. Gender equality and the rights of women and girls are thus priority topics for the agenda of the Swiss internal and external policy in the coming years.
The activities of the FOGE seek to implement equality before the law as well as real equality. They are divided into the fields of work, domestic violence and law. Wherever possible the FOGE promotes cooperation with different partners: other Federal Offices, cantonal conferences, specialist and umbrella organisations, professional associations, workers’ and employers’ organisations and non-governmental organisations.
Ensuring equal opportunities at work plays a key role in achieving equality in all areas of life. Equal pay is also a key topic of the FOGE in 2018. According to the Federal Statistical Office FSO, in the year 2014 women’s pay slips showed an average of 1,412 francs per month less than those of men’s. 58% of the pay gap is due to factors that can be explained. 42% of the pay gap remains unexplained. This injustice is felt by society as a whole: this loss of earnings impacts the household budget and the personal old age insurance of women and their families.
Carrying out equal pay checks in the area of federal public procurement is a core activity of the FOGE. Companies with at least 50 employees can analyse their pay practice by performing a self-test with Logib. In 2018, the FOGE, once again, provides workshops on Logib for interested companies and persons. A self-test tool for companies with less than 50 employees developed by the FOGE is in the pilot phase.
The public sector sets an example in the promotion of wage equality. The Charter for equal pay in the public sector was launched in 2016 by Federal Councillor Alain Berset. To date, half of the cantons and all the cities have already signed the Charter. The FOGE is supporting cantons and communes in this context. In autumn 2018 the FOGE is organising, on behalf of the Federal Department of Home Affairs, the fourth Meeting for the promotion of wage equality in the public sector.
Furthermore, every year the FOGE awards financial support as per the Gender Equality Act. This financial support aims to promote real equality at work. In view of the Swiss federal Skilled Workers Initiative, support will be given to projects focusing on the following main areas in line with the priorities that have been set: on the one hand programmes to promote the development and implementation of services and products for companies, especially those aimed at achieving wage equality and the promotion of reconciliation of work and family life. On the other hand programmes to promote the equal participation of men and women in jobs and sectors with a shortage of skilled workers.
Real equality is only possible in relationships that are free of violence. Domestic violence is a common problem in Switzerland. In 2016, 17,024 offences relating to domestic violence were recorded by the police. Each year between 2009 and 2016 there were an average of 25 deaths and 50 victims of attempted homicides in the domestic sphere. Most victims of homicides are women, and these acts are committed predominately by men.
The FOGE focuses on combating violence in couples’ relationships, which totals around 75% of all domestic violence cases. The core activity is the information, interlinking and coordination as well as the implementation of measures in connection with the prevention and fight against domestic violence within the Federal Administration. The FOGE also cooperates closely with the cantons to prevent, and fight against, domestic violence.
At the beginning of April 2018, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) will come into force in Switzerland. The FOGE will serve as the national coordination centre for the implementation of this Convention and will work out a way of implementing the Convention in consultation with the cantons in the current year. Furthermore, a roadmap of the current tasks and measures will be drawn up by a representative Swiss federal working group under the auspices of the FOGE. On 13 November 2018, the FOGE will be holding a national conference on the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention in Berne.
In the legal sense, gender equality is now largely achieved in Switzerland. In reality, however, there remains discrimination in practice. This is especially due to, firstly, persisting gender stereotypes in the education sector and in the world of work, and secondly due to traditional role assignments for men and women in family and society. According to a study undertaken last year, in which there was a focus on the impact of the Gender Equality Act in legal practice, salary, pregnancy and motherhood remain the most argued grounds of discrimination in court.
Aiming to promote the implementation of the Gender Equality Act, the FOGE informs organisations, relevant professional circles and the wider public on specific issues of the Act, such as sexual harassment, and asks for legal expert opinions on questions related to wage equality.
In collaboration with the University of Lucerne, the FOGE is organising a legal conference on gender issues in social security law on 14 June 2018. As a follow-up, a synopsis of the speakers’ contributions will be published.
The FOGE also plays a part in the revision of the Gender Equality Act, which provides for a compulsory periodic wage equality analysis for companies with more than 50 employees as well as the verification thereof by an external body.
The legal department provides advice to the work department in relation to firstly the execution of wage equality checks within federal public procurement, and secondly in relation to developing the tools for equal pay analyses.
The FOGE represents Switzerland in different international institutions as well as taking a leading role in compiling the periodic reports of Switzerland concerning the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW). These national reports explain the progress and challenges of gender equality. The roadmap for the implementation of the CEDAW recommendations drawn up by the FOGE will be developed in 2018 through a representative Swiss federal working group. At the same time, the FOGE, together with all relevant actors at the federal and cantonal level, will produce a CEDAW interim report (inter alia, concerning a national gender equality strategy), which will be published at the end of this year.