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Chapter Abstracts

In Search of Women in Swiss History

Chapter 1 offers an overview of Swiss history from prehistoric to modern times with a focus on women’s activities and the oblivion of traditional historicity to include women’s contributions to the formation of the Helvetic Confederation. Throughout the centuries, women had participated in socio-economic services and in the defense of the country besides securing the primary infrastructure of the private sphere. Early on, a few noble women had political power, and convents established a religious female culture. Some extraordinary women broke the fetters of social and civil dependency and they left traces in the detritus of history. Dauntless Swiss women with socio-political interests devoted themselves to the advancement of women’s political rights and access to equal education.

Women in Religion: Serving God and His/Her People

Chapter 2 analyzes the specifics of religious-based contributions by women to Switzerland’s success story. Since Medieval times, convents and religious institutions offered women an alternative life, independent of men in their families, in the service of God and the people. The beginning of systematic schooling of girls as well as the organized profession of nursing and female teachers began in convents. Thanks to the nuns who educated girls, female teachers and nurses, Switzerland’s schools and hospitals, as well as faith-based charities contributed immensely to the national well-being. Reformation and secularization diminished religious orders and communities of women. Judeo-Christian traditions limited women’s equal participation in religion, yet the women consciously or unconsciously applied religious and ethical principles in everyday life, thus contributing to the nation that is based “On the name of God Almighty.” Women also have immensely suffered because of religious interpretations of dogmas in the patriarchal churches and institutions—from witch burning to modern gender discrimination. Most remaining convent institutions offer today hotel accommodations and contemplative, spiritual programs or elder care. Some are still involved with international mission work and aid organizations.

The Power and Strength of the Domestic Realm

Chapter 3 explains why homemaking that included many specialized skills passed on from generation to generation is synonym with Swiss meticulousness. Artifacts and objects tell the stories of the evolution of producers and users in the home. Accounts of various types of housework and changes in methods of housekeeping are included. Because home economics was mandatory for girls in Swiss public schools and continuing education, and because a professional apprenticeship in home economics was basically the norm for middle class females, these traditions secured continuity and kept many women in private homes. Swiss women developed excellence at all levels of creating and managing the business of homemaking and family care. The primary infrastructure of homemaking was the conceptual linchpin of Swiss democracy, stability, and economy. Household productivity surpasses all other sectors of the economy. Today, the primary infrastructure should be accomplished by women and men in partnership according to Swiss marriage laws and equality. Women still perform most of the work in the homes.

The Work of Wives of Farmers and Artisans

Chapter 4 shows that women in Switzerland have played a highly productive role in Swiss agriculture and small businesses for many centuries as they were responsible for daily survival and stability. Women’s work on farms especially enabled a growth of productivity during the hard times of the two World Wars as data proof. Yet, women’s work on farms and in artisans’ shops was not equally valued as men’s work. Revenues and gross value added originating from farms and small family businesses entered the national accounting system without reflecting women’s work in the house, stable, field, and shop because women contributed non-paid labor. Today, the education of a female farmer entails a federally certified diploma. Farming women have local professional organizations and a national federation to support equality.


The Education of Women and Women in Education

Already in the 17th and 18th century, exemplary convents in Switzerland started to teach common girls on a regular base. Convents were the first institutions to offer high quality teacher and nursing programs which advanced professional opportunities for women and saved the local, cantonal, and federal governments enormous amounts of money, and improved health care and social welfare. The moral and ethical principles of the nuns’ teaching methodologies were based on the Christian faith of their orders that immanently placed women in the center of service to God and the people. In addition, Rousseau’s and Pestalozzi’s social teachings were incorporated in the social understanding of women’s and men’s essential roles in public education and the well-being of children. In the 1830’s, mandatory elementary school for both genders was introduced in all cantons, but only boys could continue secondary education. The federal curriculum requirement of 1895 to teach all girls home economics strengthened the gender role models, but eventually improved women’s participation in education. The hundreds of women’s organizations supported women’s excellence in the primary infrastructure, while at the same time urging the government for women’s rights and access to all levels of education which was realized in the 20th century. Only in 1985, the first woman became full professor at ETH in Zurich. In 1996, equality of the genders became part of the Swiss Constitution.

Women in Early Swiss Industry

Chapter 6 explores women’s work in early Swiss industry and related poverty due to labor exploitation. Swiss industry started in textile cottage industry where for example fabrics and watches were produced. When machines were developed to satisfy the demands of textiles, the production was centralized in factories. Men, women, and children worked for a low pay and for long hours, six days a week, in a variety of early industries generating wealth for the owners. Women’s organizations initiated labor laws to alleviate poverty and working conditions of women and mothers. Textiles were the largest amount of goods produced and exported in Switzerland until the early 20th century when more money could be earned by building machines. The female workforce shifted to the service sectors. In 1928 and 1958, the Swiss women’s organizations organized large scale exhibitions on women’s work, the SAFFA exhibitions.


Women Serving in the Swiss Military – “The Women’s Auxiliary Service”

Women were never required to serve as soldiers in the long history of Switzerland, but a number of women accompanied the troops as subsistence providers or as prostitutes, and women cared for the wounded after battles. A federal army only began to be developed after Switzerland was invaded by the French in 1798, when women helped to defend the villages and towns with all their might. At the Congress of Vienna, Switzerland was recognized as a neutral country in 1815. The nation’s goal was to protect this status by building a federal state in 1848 and concomitantly by structuring a defensive army. In the 19th century, women’s organizations began to demand social and political rights. When WWI broke out, the women suggested a female military unit, but women could only serve as nurses in collaboration with the Swiss Red Cross. With no compensation for soldiers’ military services during WWI, women had to concentrate on the home front and contribute to the survival of the soldiers’ families, while they also supplied the soldiers through sewing, knitting, washing, and feeding them in over 1000 women-run facilities. At the beginning of WWII, women immediately negotiated with high military authorities to establish a women’s unit. In 1940, realizing that women’s services and expertise were needed, General Guisan hastily called for an Auxiliary Women’s Service unit. This was the inception of recognized women soldiers, which opened the door to equal military service as for men in 2005, with the exception of conscription to this date.


The Politics of Women Leading to Women in Politics

Chapter 8 describes the long and patiently fought battle of Swiss women’s suffrage. The division of labor and distinct gender roles were immanent in Swiss society. Still in the 19th and 20th century, Swiss laws prescribed different roles for men and women. Women’s place and work in the home was further fostered in the school curriculum. Women’s politics primarily consisted of serving for the well-being of the family and the community. Women in the French-speaking part of Switzerland were first influenced by French activists who fought for equal rights for women. Individual women of Berne followed demanding the abolition of tutelage. As more women gained access to education they were able to voice discrimination and injustice. Bourgeois women founded organizations and called for equality besides successfully engaging in social welfare and the continued proliferation of home economics. Slowly women were accepted in governing bodies of social and educational institutions. For decades, women’s committees launched petitions for voting and political rights on the municipal, cantonal, and federal levels. Individual (male) legislators supported the calls, but the first national vote on women’s right to vote on federal level was defeated in 1959, partially because of negative propaganda by conservative women. The first woman to be elected into a political city council was a housewife. The one hundred year struggle of Swiss suffrage ended in 1971, when women’s rights were included in human rights, opening the door for women in Swiss federal government. Today, approximately one fifth of the members in governing bodies in Switzerland are female.

Caring for the Sick and Healing the Nation

Caring for and healing the sick has primarily been women’s work as data confirms. Midwifery has the longest history of women’s practical knowledge of medicine. Women took care of the wounded after battles. Early on, women financed or helped establishing hospitals. Initially, nuns in Swiss convents were trained as nurses in the late 18th century based on a French model. During the 19th century, Catholic convents and Deaconess religious communities were founded in order to train nurses and staff their newly built, own hospitals. The first female doctors graduating from Swiss universities devoted themselves to women’s health. Switzerland is the home of the International Committee of the Red Cross, co-founded in 1866 by Henri Dunant who received the first Nobel Prize for Peace. The Swiss Red Cross was deployed to aid the beaten Bourbaki army, but primarily common women cared for the wounded and hungry soldiers. The first non-religious nursing programs were established in the French part of Switzerland. Upon pressure by women’s organizations, the Red Cross also began to offer nursing programs. Subsequently numerous Red Cross nurses worked during the two World Wars. Local Samaritan Societies were established to offer First Aid in case of local calamities. Exceptional women have greatly influenced the holistic health care. Today, women are still the majority of professional care providers as well as non-paid care givers. Efforts to recognize the latter and calculate the added value as a factor in the national economy are discussed in this chapter.


Women in the Modern Service Sectors

Chapter 10 describes the central role of Swiss women in the service industries. Invisible women represent(ed) the fulcrum of caring for guests and their well-being. They served the primary infrastructure in inns, taverns, guesthouses, and hotels. The ever expanding administration of businesses required clerks and assistants. Women filled the lacuna and society began to accept women’s work in the ever growing service industry. While men control and outnumber women in public administration, in finance, commerce, and transportation services and more recently in communication and information services, more women than men work in hotel and gastronomy, in health and social services, and in education. The number of male and female employees in real estate is equal. Service and women’s work was/is seen as synonymous whether in paid positions or regarding unpaid services. Individual women’s stories reveal an interfusing and an all pervasive influence of service work that alludes simple quantification.


Female Entrepreneurs and Modern CEOs

Stories about contriving widows of entrepreneurs who have taken over their late husband’s businesses were and are being found throughout Swiss history. Mothers, wives, and daughters developed an own entrepreneurial spirit as they invested their money and influence in early family businesses. Exceptional, individual women, Else Züblin Spiller and Susanna Orelli-Rinderknecht, created the first social enterprises in Switzerland. Today, more women than men lead SME companies which make up for more than 99% of all businesses in Switzerland. Self-employed female entrepreneurs operate largely under the radar of economic productivity and value. Many large corporations make an effort to elect and appoint women to supervisionary and executive boards because research shows that women in upper management and leadership roles are beneficial to companies. The Swiss government proposes quota regulations of women in leadership positions.


Swiss Feminist Economics

The last chapter proposes concepts of Swiss feminist economics which is not yet an academic sub-discipline in Switzerland, but feminist economic principles are discussed in correlation with gender equality in business and government. In recent years, the Federal Statistical Office and Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs undertook with great efforts a wide array of innovative data collection to establish new formula to calculate indexes in order to show and explain women’s productivity and value in economic processes and the national economy.

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