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Gender inequality limits the freedom of individual life trajectories


Gender equality has not been achieved in Switzerland, although it is enshrined in the Swiss Constitution. This is all the more unfortunate because gender equality would make society more just and create economic benefits. However, gender equality cannot simply be imposed top-down: it must be supported by all members of society. This is the conclusion reached by the National Research Programme "Gender Equality" (NRP 60).

NRP 60 took a close look at gender equality in Switzerland in 21 research projects. The synthesis of the knowledge gained in the programme is now available. Its core finding: gender equality has been achieved only partially in areas such as education, the labour market, the compatibility of career and family, and social security.

Education: gender stereotypes prevail

The practices and teaching materials that are used in nurseries and schools today still convey stereotypical concepts of "feminine" and "masculine" behaviour. Teachers, school boards and vocational schools don't do enough to support "atypical" professional and career choices of boys and girls. Not enough attention is paid to gender equality in schools because those concerned think that it has already been achieved.

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The likes and interests of young people are shaped by standardised images of "femininity" and "masculinity". Young men tend to anticipate their future role as breadwinners when choosing a career, young women choose professions that they can practice part-time or after taking parental leave. This reinforces the inequality of "typically male" and "typically female" professions as well as the unequal distribution of paid and unpaid work between men and women - to the detriment of the latter.

Labour market: lower wages for women from the start

When starting out in their careers, young women earn less than young men doing the same work. This inequality is not only contrary to the principle of equality, it also influences the relationship between men and women by defining who does the unpaid family work. Companies and the public sector assume that women do the family work and men devote their lives exclusively to their careers. Gender stereotypes about careers, presence at the workplace or competence are especially prominent in sectors dominated by men.

Both women and men are affected by sexual harassment in the workplace; approximately every second person is confronted with potentially harassing behaviour. However, women feel more affected by it due to the traditional imbalance in power and physical strength between women and men. A work en-vironment characterised by mutual respect and basic ethical principles helps to prevent sexual harassment.

Compatibility of family, education and profession: lack of care options for families

Taxes, social transfers and childcare costs influence the parents' decision as to who goes to work and who takes on the unpaid housework. Switzerland is lagging behind other countries as far as childcare services are concerned. The availability of affordable childcare encourages couples to think over the division of tasks in the family and choose more equitable earning and care models.

When companies try to create a balance between career and family, they focus mainly on young women and young families. Men and women in the second half of their careers are overlooked and excluded from continuing education.

Social security: lack of security for older women in distress.

The number of people working part-time, in low-paid jobs or in the care sector has increased significantly in the past decades. These often precarious forms of work are an insecure means of existence for many, with women being affected twice as often as men. As social security contributions are linked to contin-ual, full-time employment, women over fifty are often worse off or not sufficient-ly secure in distress and dependent on social benefits or supplementary AHV and IV benefits: as pensioners they receive up to three times less than men, who - freed from unpaid family work - often work full-time all their working lives and are therefore much better insured.

The most important means of securing one's livelihood in Switzerland is education: a lack of post-compulsory education is the number one poverty risk. Unemployed middle-aged women barely had the opportunity to complete their professional training when they were young and were not given many chances later on either.

A lot done, a lot more to do

The Steering Committee of NRP 60 concludes that parents and teachers should be more aware of the strong influence they have on young people choosing a course of studies or a profession. Employers should ensure that all employees are able to do unpaid care work alongside their paid jobs without suffering any disadvantages. Affordable care services are needed for children and grown-ups requiring care in order to achieve a balance between family, education and career.

Income, taxes, social transfers and care costs must be coordinated in a way that makes higher wages result in a higher disposable income, thus making paid work worthwhile. An education campaign could help the unqualified unemployed - more often women than men - to complete their professional training later in life. Social security and social welfare should take into account the diversity of family models. Men and women will only enjoy equal opportunities with regard to securing their livelihood when adequate social security is guaranteed also for those who work part-time.

Professor Brigitte Liebig
University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland
School of Applied Psychology
Riggenbachstr. 16
CH-4600 Olten
Tel.: 078 659 01 49, 062 957 23 61

Professor René Levy
University of Lausanne
Institute of Social Sciences
CH-1015 Lausanne
Tel.: 021 903 11 32


NFP 60 Gleichstellung der Geschlechter: Ergebnisse und Impulse. Swiss National Science Foundation, Berne, 2014, 61 pages. The synthesis report can be downloaded from the website of nrp 60 or ordered free of charge by writing to:


Video interviews with Brigitte Liebig and René Levy will be available as of 27 May 2014, 10 a.m. at

National Research Programme "Gender Equality" (NRP 60)

NRP 60 investigated the reasons of inequality between men and women in Switzerland and investigated which measures could be taken to achieve gen-der equality. Mandated by the Federal Council, NRP 60 began its work in 2010 on a budget of CHF 8 million. Approximately 80 researchers worked in 21 pro-jects. NRP 60 now presents its synthesis.

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