As part of the #WomenAreNATO initiative, Magda Jakubowska, Vice-President of the Res Publica Foundation interviewed State Secretary Pascale Baeriswyl, Switzerland’s Top-Diplomat about the country's unique approach to gender related issues.


What does female leadership in Switzerland look like? In Swiss politics and army? How is diversity perceived?

Let me start with the positive facts: On 5 December 2018, our National Assembly, for the first time in history, elected two new female Federal Counsellors at once, which means that as of 2019 our government counts 3 women and 4 men.

In the two chambers of the Federal Parliament, women represent 33% of the National Council and 15% of the Council of States (2018). So, there is still some way to go and an alliance of women’s organizations, including many female groups of the political parties, is currently encouraging women to run for election in autumn 2019.

With regard to the army, the good news is that one of the newly elected ministers is heading – again for the first time in Swiss history – the Federal Department for Defense since January 1st of this year.

In the armed forces, the picture is not yet convincing since only 0.7% are female. This is mostly due to the fact that the military service is only mandatory for men.

What was your career path? Did you have any female role-models or specific obstacles you had to face?

With regard to female careers, there is no magic trick, but maybe some magic words: wonderful role models and networking, networking, networking and – maybe with a less magic –  patience, very hard work and a pinch of luck!

With regard to the obstacles, they range – unsurprisingly – from the challenge of combining family and career to the still very male-oriented understanding of power in a traditionally male profession like diplomacy.

Strong logistical and moral support from family and friends is also needed as well as the courage to leave your comfort zone and to bear setbacks.

What gave you courage? What would be your advice for women who want to make their careers in foreign affairs and international security?

The numerous courageous people I had the great privilege to meet, and who achieved something special, in every corner of the world and at every level of society, ranging from my grandma – who, as a simple woman in a small village, hid Jewish children during the Second World War – to women who reached top positions thanks to their excellence like IMF President Christine Lagarde or the former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to people like the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2018, Denis Mukwege, who has been treating so many female victims of sexual violence.

My advice is to have the courage to take risks in order to change things every now and then.

Commit to the occupation you have a passion for, but don’t be afraid of change, failure and setbacks. The most important thing is probably to understand that there is not “ONE path”, since the definition of what a career really is not only your personal choice, but also depends on what you make of it.

And over a lifetime, our priorities change. So, the magic word here probably is flexibility: Take the chance that presents itself!

What encourages women to take over political leadership? How important is it for women to be engaged in Foreign Affairs?  

It is paramount that women are actively engaged in foreign affairs, including in decision-making functions since any sector of public life in a democratic political system should represent the population accordingly. In diplomacy, we still have some improvements to achieve.

In 2018, we had 34% women in the diplomatic service, and only 20% of the Swiss ambassadors were women, but things are getting better.

In our competitive recruitment process, we can ensure gender parity in the meantime, and as of summer 2019 we will, for the first time, nearly achieve parity in the top-level positions in the capital.

We also have an association for Swiss female diplomats working on issues related to gender-equality in the diplomatic service: fostering networks and mentoring, promoting part-time and job-sharing working-models.

I believe more and more men do appreciate the role of cooperation with women and their different attitude and points of view…

It is well known that mixed teams get better results. This is true in all fields, whether business, politics, security or diplomacy.

Even if more men across the world have recently become “gender champions” and promote gender equality and women’s representation, there is a need to encourage all generations, to be more active – and serious – on that topic. Gender-equality is a question of partnership between women and men – and we should adapt the narrative so that men feel concerned as allies, not as potential “losers”.

What are the priorities for Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in terms of woman engagement and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325? What are the successes or best practices of the National Action Plan?

Switzerland was a pioneer with regard to the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and has recently adopted its 4th national action plan on Women, Peace and Security. Its thematic priorities are: effective involvement of women in conflict prevention; women’s participation in conflict resolution and peace processes; protection against sexual and gender-based violence in conflict; women’s participation in peace missions and security policy

In the past, we have successfully supported transitional justice processes such as, for example, in the Philippines where Switzerland co-chaired the truth and reconciliation commission that produced over 90 gender-relevant recommendations.

From 2019 on, Switzerland, as a member of the Partnership for Peace will support the work of the NATO Secretary General’s special representative on women, peace and security and her new “Human Security Unit” with a seconded officer.

What is the advancement in gender equality and women’s empowerment in the private sector, especially with regard to new technologies, in Switzerland?

Efforts are underway to encourage more women and girls to choose technical studies (MINT studies) by making them more attractive for women.

The private sector is a key stakeholder to strengthen women’s positions, in particular with regard to ensuring equal pay for work of equal value and their representation in top decision-making positions.

Awareness is still lagging behind, but, thanks to some very committed women and men in top positions of the private sector, continuously growing.

Are there special aspects in Switzerland’s policies enhancing gender equality?

Women’s political rights were accepted late in Switzerland – the right to vote at the national level was introduced only in 1971.

This is certainly an important reason why a strong women’s movement helped introduce a solid legal framework; since 1981, the Swiss Constitution stipulates in art. 8 equal rights for men and women, mainly in the workplace and in the family.

In 1995, the Equality Law was established with a focus on gender equality in the workplace.

A key area of action of the Federal Office for Gender Equality is addressing the gender pay gap. The law was recently amended to make it mandatory for companies with more than 100 employees to conduct a check of their pay practice.

In foreign politics, Switzerland developed a Strategy on Gender equality and Women’s rights, which focuses on strengthening women’s economic empowerment and effective participation, combatting all forms of gender-based violence and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights.

What is Switzerland’s motivation for these targeted measures?

Switzerland is a country which worships excellence. This is a tough choice, and in order to be excellent, you have to make use of all your talent – from men and women.

Equal rights for women and men is therefore a mandate driven by our Federal Constitution. Fostering women’s rights and gender equality means contributing to excellence, creating a fairer, more responsible society that has deeper respect for diversity. This is also what we promote at FDFA in our foreign policy.

State Secretary and head of Directorate of Political Affairs of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland

Eastern European Futures

In 2009, the European Union and six of its Eastern neighbours launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with the stated aim of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. A decade on, however, progress has been mixed.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

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