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March on Bern in protest for women’s voting rights, 1969 Bern (source

Working at Mercy Hands Europe, a women-led NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland, we as a team are passionate feminists and are always fighting and raising awareness for equal rights. This is why this issue is embedded in every project that we implement in over 5 different countries (Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, Georgia, and Ukraine). However, how is the situation in our headquarters country? 

Not many people know that Switzerland is not as progressive as it seems. The first example that comes to mind is the women’s right to vote and run for office, officially in Switzerland this has been in place since the late date of 1971. What is cleverly disguised in the Swiss case, is the fact that there is a right to vote nationally but also on a more regional basis on votes and elections relating to the Canton. Thus, despite the right to vote and run for office having been accorded to women nationally in 1971, there was one Canton who only allowed their women to do this 20 years later in 1991, we are looking at you Appenzell Innerrhoden. (

Many studies have shown that gender equality is substantial to sustainable development (E. Bayeh, 2016). This goes beyond the mere right to vote, women need to feel safe and empowered that their voices will actually be heard, that speaking up and standing up for themselves will not cost them their jobs, family or physical safety. The prevalence of sexual harassment and gender-based violence across the globe can be led back to the fact that the society we live in has profoundly imprinted on our perception of what is normal and acceptable. In Switzerland close to 60% of women have been sexually harassed, many of them in the workplace (Swissinfo). This is one of many reasons why on the 14th of June women across Switzerland took to the streets protesting the violence and discrimination. This also includes the pay gap that in Switzerland consists of  about 19% lower salaries for women compared to their male coworkers ( 

Women protesting in Geneva, 14th of June 2023 (source

Switzerland is considered as one of the most progressive and open-minded countries in Europe, the legislation however, is disturbingly written against victims of sexual violence. The wording of the law that states what can be considered rape for example, is restrictive to an extent where a clear “no” from the victim is not considered sufficient to qualify the following sexual act as rape, there has to be proof of a physical struggle against the aggressor (also legally in Switzerland a man cannot be a victim of rape). Amnesty International has called upon the state to make the necessary changes to comply with the Istanbul Convention  that the country is a signatory of, this convention anchors the concept of consent in cases of rape(study by Amnesty International).

Should you have been a victim of sexual violence, on this website you will find numbers to call to find help . 

Mercy Hands Europe will always stand up against the violation of women’s rights as there are no human rights without women’s rights. 

Anja Sowulewska, Project Manager for Mercy Hands Europe, 07/07/2023