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Sandra Contzen, Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences, sandra.contzen@bfh.ch

Topic: Tracing gender inequalities in Swiss agriculture and their consequences for women’s social security

Keywords: gender inequality, social security, women in agriculture, Switzerland


Switzerland is one of the wealthiest and among the most developed countries in the world. However, reading gender equality it seems stuck in the Stone Age. After several rejections, only on 7th February 1971, men accepted the women’s voting right on the national level; gender equality was anchored in 1981 in the Swiss Constitution and in 1988 the marriage law was adapted, eliminating the legal subordination of women to their husbands. However, women are still doing most of care work and are responsible for the household – a fact known worldwide. While the Swiss school system follows gender equality norms, e.g. no longer teaching girls only in cooking or sewing, the classical professional career of women in agriculture perpetuates their traditional role as good housewives and mothers. Men’s professional agricultural career, however, prepares them to run a farm as a farm operator. Hence, the professional careers in Swiss agriculture clearly prescribe women’s and men’s roles: men are the producers, i.e. responsible for the business sphere of the family farm, and women are the reproducers, i.e. responsible for the household-family sphere of the family farm.

This paper traces the construction of gender inequality in Swiss agriculture and how this is translated into the well-known gendered division of labour. It investigates based on qualitative interviews, conducted in 2013 and 2014 in the German speaking part of Switzerland, how it is represented in the narratives of women in agriculture and what social and financial consequences might derive especially in case of divorce or old age.

The paper shows diverging narratives among women in Swiss agriculture, depending on their status on the family farm and on their professional background. By linking the typology of farming-family configurations developed by Contzen and Forney (2017) to the narratives, the paper shows how different groups of women in agriculture exist and how their status on the farm leads to more or less gender equality, especially with regard to own income and social security, important means to deal with risks such as divorce or in old age.

The paper concludes that despite propositions of the Swiss federal council to change parts of the agricultural law to foster more gender equality in Swiss agriculture – its adoption depending on the Swiss parliament and probably on the Swiss voters – the classical professional career for women in agriculture and its consequences for women’s professional identity and self-image perpetuates gender inequality in Swiss agriculture.

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