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VOTING

Will Switzerland introduce obligatory military service for women?

Military service is mandatory only for men in Switzerland, but a new movement may change all that.

A female member of the Swiss army. Will women have to do military service in Switzerland? Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
A female member of the Swiss army. Will women have to do military service in Switzerland? Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

An inter-party committee launched a popular initiative on Wednesday calling for the introduction of compulsory military or civil protection service for women.

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

Committee members say any person of Swiss nationality should serve in the military or a similar service recognised by law, such as civil protection.

“Everyone should make a commitment to the community and the environment at least once in their life” reads the text of the initiative. 

“The initiative takes a historic double step. It embodies gender equality in service to the community and recognises civilian forms of commitment as equivalent to military service.”

READ MORE: Do Swiss soldiers really use the army knife?

What are the current rules? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases).

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over.

Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

While women do serve in the Swiss military, they make up such a small part of the military that they were required to wear mens underwear until relatively recently. 

READ MORE: Women in Swiss military can finally wear women’s underwear

Is this likely to pass? 

As yet, there have been no widespread polls to see how popular the idea is among the Swiss populace, although the conservative bent of Swiss voters may see the idea fail, given that women did not achieve universal suffrage in each canton until 1990. 

The committee has until October 26th, 2023 to collect 100,000 signatures needed to bring this issue to the ballot box.

The committee has said after the requisite signatures are collected, the issue will hopefully be put to a vote in 2025. 

If the measure is approved at a future referendum, Switzerland would become the third country in the world, after Israel and Norway, to make military service compulsory for both sexes.

EXPLAINED: What happened after Swiss women got the right to vote in 1971?

In late 2021, a Swiss man alleging the rule was discriminatory brought the case to the European court, after having similar legal efforts in Switzerland knocked back. 

Martin Küng, who brought the action, said he was optimistic the European court would find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax which was only imposed on men.

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said.

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision.

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him.

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

READ MORE: Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

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SWISS REFERENDUM

Swiss head towards popular vote on US fighter jets purchase

A Swiss alliance seeking to block the purchase of F-35A fighter jets handed over enough signatures to the authorities on Tuesday to force a popular vote on the issue.

Swiss head towards popular vote on US fighter jets purchase

The left-leaning “Stop-F-35” alliance handed over the 100,000 signatures required under Switzerland’s direct democracy system to take any subject to a vote.

Once authorities have verified the signatures, the government will be required to set a date for a popular vote.

“This initiative is only targeting the type of plane,” the alliance stressed in a statement, adding that if Switzerland chooses another fighter jet, “the initiative will be withdrawn.”

The Swiss government agreed in June last year to buy 36 F-35As from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

The purchase followed the narrow referendum approval in September 2020 for the military to spend six billion Swiss francs to acquire a new
fleet.

The F-35A combat aircraft — already used by the US Air Force and several European countries — was chosen ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter, the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing, and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

The government said the plane was the best, but two Swiss parliamentary committees launched an investigation into why the model was chosen after a series of technical problems reported with the plane in the United States.

They also questioned the high cost of the planes.

The “Stop-F-35” alliance was formed to try to force the issue to a fresh popular vote.

But despite the concerns, the government announced in May that it wanted to speed up the purchase process, with the US offer expiring at the end of March 2023, raising fears that Bern would not wait for a popular vote on the matter.

“The government and parliament must now do everything possible to enable a popular vote and an urgent and necessary public debate about the largest military equipment contract in Swiss history,” the alliance said on its website.

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