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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 citizens in Vaud set to have their say on foreigners’ rights to vote

Swiss nationals in the canton of Vaud are likely to be given the chance to vote in a referendum on cantonal voting rights for foreigners.

Swiss citizens in Vaud set to have their say on foreigners' rights to vote

The campaign group AG!SSONS (‘Take Action’ in English) said it had collected enough signatures needed for its initiative to be brought to the ballot box in a referendum. 

Under the banner “political rights for those who live here”, the group calls for the right to vote and run for elections at the cantonal level to be granted to all foreigners who have been living at least 10 years in Switzerland. Further requirements are that the foreign nationals have clocked up three consecutive years of residence in Vaud itself, and currently live in the canton.  

Switzerland has a unique system of direct democracy which allows people to have a greater say in the way the country is run. 

Groups are able to put forward initiatives, like this one, which can then go to the ballot box if enough public support is gathered. 

‘Why do non-Swiss residents have no say?’

The initiative says that people who live and work in an area “should be able to get involved in public affairs and participate fully in political life and decision-making”.

The campaign goes on to say that more than a third of the population living in the canton of Vaud do not have Swiss nationality so have limited voting rights.

“Yet these people are active in the social life of the canton; they have jobs, pay taxes and live in the same area, sometimes for decades,” says the initiative. “How are they different from Swiss nationals by birth or naturalisation?

“As a result, elections and votes are not representative of the population of the canton of Vaud, and they are not conducive to broader democracy: this missing third of the population is also affected by political decisions, yet it has no say in them!

“The introduction of political rights for non-Swiss citizens will make up for this lack of representation and inclusiveness.”

READ ALSO: Just how diverse is Switzerland?

A total of 15,667 signatures were gathered, the group said — only 12,000 are required for an initiative to be brought to the ballot box in canton Vaud. 

“It was a huge challenge, because neither the political parties nor the unions wanted to commit to collecting signatures,” Simon Berthoud, campaign manager at AG!SSONS, told Swiss news platform LeTemps. 

Around 70 volunteers took part in the campaigning stage. The signatures are now being checked and validated by local districts. The submission of the initiative to the Chancellery is due to take place on September 1st. 

“With close to 16,000 signatures collected, we are sure the initiative reaches the minimum requirement, i.e. 12,000 valid signatures,” said Berthoud. 

Despite this movement, the outlook for the proposed referendum doesn’t look promising. 

Citizens in Vaud have already voted twice on a similar proposal back in 1992 and 2011, and both times it was rejected.

Eligible foreigners (residing in Vaud for at least three years with a B or C permit) can vote or run for political office at communal level.
READ ALSO: Where in Switzerland can foreigners vote?