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Month of hope and celebration of women around the world

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Alain Gaschen (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2021 - 12:00am

With this introduction, you will know my age: When I was born, women did not yet have the right to vote in my country. They could not elect or be elected, nor even sign initiatives or referendums. This is not just because the Swiss are rather conservative as some may say, but is mainly due to the fact that unlike the countries which introduced the right to vote before us, the decision could not be taken by the government, nor by the parliament. It belonged to the people, which means that we had to wait for the men to be ready to confer the right to vote to their mothers and wives, something that would be totally out of place in today’s world.

This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of that vote. We have not reached the goal of equality and equitable sharing of power and responsibilities just yet, but considerable progress has been made in the ratification of international treaties, the recognition of equality in the Constitution, the matrimonial law and maternity insurance, reduction of gender-based violence, and in the educational system. Since the elections in 2019, more than 40 percent of the MPs are women. This is a significant 10 percent rise since the last legislative body.

The path has not always been an easy one, as mentalities take time to change. I remember during my school years that boys were taught manual work while girls were trained in housekeeping skills. At home, the right of the women to work was recognized, mostly part-time, but it was also understood back then by many that they continued to take on the household chores, on their own. This all stems from a bygone era, an era marked by audio cassettes, smoking in planes and in restaurants, and the landline telephone. Today, the main challenges in Switzerland relate to equal pay and the balance between family and career. However, some stereotypes, unfortunately, die hard.

To combat these stereotypes, women need to continue to engage. As Simone de Beauvoir said: “Women who say nothing are taken at their word: they get nothing.”

Now, at least in my generation, I have witnessed a certain erosion of the feminist movement. Other strong women had struggled and led the way, it no longer seemed necessary to engage, and activism might have seemed out of date. The good thing is that the generation after mine picked it up again, with was manifested by a huge women’s strike in 2019, supported by Swiss of all genders. But the fight for equality is like cycling: even with a good momentum and the wind at your back, if you stop pedaling, there comes a time when you cannot go any further.

March is a good month to cycle. March signifies the end of the cold, picturesque Swiss winter landscape and ushers in the bright, warm and also picturesque Swiss springtime. The season brings in not only the lush green scenery that Switzerland is popular for, but also the renewed feeling of hope in the days, weeks and months to come. I assume that it is only fitting that Women’s Month – a celebration of the achievements of women around the world and an opportunity to promote gender equality and inclusivity for a better future – would also be held in the same month recognized for the optimism it brings.

This month also serves as a reminder of the many women that I have met, both in my personal and professional capacity, who have made a significant impact. In terms of the work that the Swiss embassy has achieved, numerous women have also contributed to our success over the years. This includes Special Envoy and head of the Task force for Dealing with the Past and Prevention of Atrocities Mô Bleeker, whose work in the Bangsamoro peace process continues on to this very day. Another inspiring woman that I have had the pleasure to meet is Swiss writer Annette Hug, whose study of the Filipino language as well as national hero Jose Rizal are truly amazing to hear. We previously posted on Facebook her discussion with University of the Philippines Professor Ramon Guillermo on Rizal’s work and his time in Europe on the occasion of Rizal Day last year.

Aside from this, I also have had the opportunity to engage with exceptional Filipina women, such as Swiss-Filipina businesswoman and designer Stephanie Kienle-Gonzales, who manages a leading furniture manufacturing company. Her work in this field is also a testament to how the Swiss-Filipino identity can manifest itself in various ways.

In terms of trade relations, the Philippine-Swiss Business Council (PSBC) 2021 counts on strong leadership by Christine Fajardo, with whom I have the privilege to advance existing PH-CH ties.

Their stories are just some of those which we spotlight this month, through our #MeetTheSwiss Women’s Month Celebration. Throughout March, we have highlighted various Swiss-affiliated women whose work and achievements in different fields have proven to be truly inspiring and deserving of recognition. Their experiences have been posted on our Facebook and Instagram (@SwissEmbassyPhilippines) and more can be expected before the month’s end. It is our hope that these women may also serve as inspiration to the next generation of women leaders and achievers.

Seeing the things that these women have done over the course of their lives, I am reminded of the optimism I feel in the springtime. These inspirational individuals have overcome systemic barriers and challenges to their success through their ability and determination, like numerous women before them. Although admittedly, there is more that needs to be done with regards to the topic of gender equality, the stories of the women as well as the leaps and bounds made by Switzerland in less than a century truly gives me hope and excitement on what young women like my daughter could achieve in the next 50 years.

To end, I have one piece of really good news: data show that women have a greater awareness when it comes to the environment, sustainability, biodiversity and climate change. This is why we need to hear their voices today more than ever – to provide innovative solutions to new challenges!

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Alain Gaschen is the Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines.

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