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“It would be a great first step if we had 40 per cent women”

04.02.2021 – Interview: Marc Lettau

Better representation of women is an objective shared by the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA). The elections to the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA) offer a tangible opportunity in this regard. What is OSA Director Ariane Rustichelli’s view on the matter?

Some 44 women and 76 men represent the Swiss expatriate community in the “Parliament of the Fifth Switzerland”, the CSA. The proportion of women is too low in your opinion.

Yes, it is too low for the simple reason that women represent the majority of people in the “Fifth Switzerland”. Women account for 54 per cent of the 770,000 Swiss who live abroad. But it is more than just a question of percentages. A council should reflect the community it represents as closely as possible. Proper female representation also translates into a different way of going about things in terms of the political agenda, the culture of debate and identifying solutions for example. We are currently seeing this in Switzerland. The women’s strike and other initiatives are factors that resulted in more women being elected to the federal parliament in 2019. We can now see the substantive outcome.

The National Council is made up of 42 per cent women. Women account for 36 per cent of people who sit on the CSA. Does the percentage of women in the CSA need to increase to over 40 per cent?

Looking at it pragmatically, yes. It would be a great first step if we had 40 per cent women.

And what would be the second step?

The actual aim is 50 per cent or more, because again we want the CSA to reflect the diverse Swiss expatriate community as accurately as possible. By the way, this is not an end in itself. Diversity always enriches our lives and is one of the keys to better and more broadly based decision-making.

Reflecting social diversity is not solely about ensuring better representation of women.

Correct. We should not forget to engage with all age groups either. Basically, we need to get young people more involved.

Apart from appealing to voters, what else can the OSA do to ensure better female representation?

We have to do more than just appeal to voters. Better female representation is necessary at all levels and in all decision-making bodies. In particular, this applies to the Swiss associations and umbrella organisations that run the CSA election process in each region. If these bodies are also serious about improving female representation, the number of candidates will increase. And if more women stand for election, more women will be elected.

Is the OSA therefore delegating responsibility to the associations and umbrella organisations?

No, not at all. Better representation of women is an overarching priority for us. We are addressing the issue at all levels. The OSA Executive Board also gave its backing to this objective in November 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic has hindered us somewhat in recent months. It has been harder to engage with CSA delegates for example. However, we will spend the whole of the Saturday morning addressing the issue at the 2021 Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Lugano.

Organisation of the Swiss Abroad Director Ariane Rustichelli: “Better female representation is necessary at all levels and in all decision-making bodies.”

In future, the OSA wants all Swiss Abroad in any given country to be able to participate in CSA elections, regardless of whether they are registered with a Swiss association or not. Would direct elections such as these help to further the female cause?

Women’s chances increase if more of them can vote and stand for election. At least that is the theory. However, experience shows that a change of system on its own is not enough. We need an environment that encourages women. Women often still feel less empowered to stand for office. Perhaps they need fresh role models.

This is all still hypothetical, because direct elections will not be taking place in 2021.

This is true. The best direct elections are when everyone can vote online. However, the suspension of e-voting in Switzerland has set us back. No other government solutions are available. Consequently, we are pinning our hopes on an alternative e-voting system. We have already evaluated it, but procuring and rolling it out takes time. Nevertheless, our efforts underscore how important introducing direct elections remains. Essentially, direct elections would provide the CSA with greater legitimacy and political leverage. Even if we used our own alternative e-voting system, we would still need assistance from the government. Only the government can verify which Swiss Abroad are eligible to vote. Being a non-profit organisation, we are unable to do this ourselves: data protection laws prevent us from accessing the necessary information.

After being freshly elected in 2021, which issues will the CSA have to address?

Certainly, one or two ongoing sagas await us. The problem with the banks and all the issues around social security are of great concern to the “Fifth Switzerland”. Being able to exercise political and voting rights is extremely important to many Swiss Abroad. The Covid-19 pandemic has deprived many of these rights. Ultimately, the exercise of political rights should be an exercise in diversity. Giving the “Fifth Switzerland” a voice gives us a more complete picture of Swiss society.

Another issue is the process of modernisation that the OSA itself is undergoing. We want to facilitate greater dialogue with Swiss who live abroad. In addition, we want to handle the OSA’s finances differently in order to build up better reserves that will enable us to achieve our objectives more quickly and effectively.

A worldwide election

Between January and June 2021, Swiss expatriates around the world will vote to determine the composition of the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA), referred to as the “Parliament of the Fifth Switzerland”. The CSA has 140 delegates, of whom 120 represent Swiss communities abroad and 20 live in Switzerland. Not all countries share the same procedure for electing CSA delegates, so the vote will not be centrally coordinated. Everything you need to know about the elections will appear in your regional edition of “Swiss Review”, courtesy of the Swiss association or umbrella organisation in your area.