SUFFRAGETTE and a centenary in Basel, Switzerland

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How surprising! Just when we as members of frauenrechte beider basel, the Basel section of ADF-SVF Suisse, were starting to prepare the festive activities celebrating our centenary in 2016, it happens that at the same time a movie is being produced about the struggle for women’s voting rights in Great Britain!
Of course we are very happy about this wonderful coincidence, and so now we shall have a very special movie-performance on March13th. We are also inviting some well-known guest-speakers for a talk about women’s rights in the past and at present. This event will be also extraordinary, because – another coincidence! – 50 years ago the women’s vote was accepted by the male voters in the city of Basel in 1966!

This shows that in Switzerland where  women’s political parity on the national level was only accepted in 1971 there had been more progressive districts (cantons) especially in the francophone region. The canton Vaud adopted it already on the cantonal level in 1959 and was soon followed by Neuchâtel and Geneva. In 1966 Basel-Stadt was the pioneer canton in the German speaking  region of Switzerland.

We are often asked why Swiss people were so slow and so terribly conservative.

This was also the main question Emma Gatten from the British newspaper The Independent asked me on the phone last autumn. It turned out that this was one of the big issues the media were interested in before the release of the movie SUFRAGETTE in October 2015. Later on Emma  Gatten had the chance to meet Martine Chapuis and Simone Chapuis from ADF-SVF Suisse in Lausanne…

If we look at Swiss history, we come to the conclusion that the male population was in no way more backward than their colleagues in other European countries. Like elsewhere here too there were contradictory progressive and conservative waves of political thinking.

But in many countries, governments and parliaments were deciding about women’s voting rights

Often they may have had more progressive political concepts than the general population…

So you might have found a similar refusal of women’s voting rights in many rather rural areas of Europe, if ever one had asked all male citizens!…

The Swiss direct democratic system functions on a bottom-up concept. That means that all people eligible to vote can voice their opinion. So sometimes the political developments are extremely slow, and unfortunately the Swiss women had to fight until 1971 for the political equality!

Looking back at the history of the ‘Swiss suffragettes’ it is amazing to see how clever they were fighting. Instead of huge violent demonstrations they were absolutely brilliant in net-working. So they started by getting involved in social activities on the communal level or in their parishes etc.
They were keen promoters of the education of girls and so could build up their self-confidence.

Whenever possible the Swiss pioneer women worked together with influential, open-minded men. Thanks to them the public opinion slowly did change towards a more favourable thinking about the women’s voting rights.

In fact also in Basel we can observe the same pattern: In 1917 the cantonal government and the parliament were voting with a large majority for the women’s suffrage, but the compulsory public vote in 1920 resulted in a strong rejection by the Basel men!

Finally coming back to our centenary of frauenrechte beider basel I want to emphasize that our pioneer-women always had been in close touch with the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), exchanging ideas and participating at all IWSA-Congresses.
In this respect we shall honour especially one founder, Georgine Gerhard (1986-1971), who since the twenties was also a member of the IWSA-board. International networking was so important for them all!
If ever you happen to come to Switzerland in the near future, you are cordially invited to attend one of our centenary-events. You can find more details on our website: www.frauenrechtebasel.ch (German language) – or just send a mail in English to info@frauenrechtebasel.ch!
We are happy to receive your message!

Ursula Nakamura-Stoecklin

President frauenrechte beider basel

19.01.2016

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