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On Thursday 15 November I attended the round table organised by CLAFV at Collège Champittet. The theme of this round table was "Equality today: How to get out of the dead end at last". The discussion was moderated by Camille Andres and welcomed 6 guests.
The CLAFV stands for "Centre de Liaison des Associations Féminines Vaudoises" or Liaison Centre for Vaud Women's Associations, which is an umbrella association that maps the different structures, coordinates and organises actions between them since 1961. The different groups cover various aspects including political, social and economic.
To discover the member organizations, click here.
Out of the Dead End ?
Since the #MeToo movement, there has been a rise of exasperation, and although there is a wake-up call, action is still needed to improve the situation. As far as equal pay is concerned, the latest law passed concerns companies with more than 100 employees; this covers less than half of the workers in Switzerland. In the public debate, we do not hear about parental leave, nor about equality classes in schools. It is not even possible to talk about inclusive writing or epicene language.
In order to discuss this topic, the guests were : Eglantine Jamet, Doctor of Social Sciences, specialist in gender and co-founder of Artemia, a women's recruitment and business consultancy firm, and Pascal Gygax, professor at the University of Fribourg, specialist in psycholinguistics and social psychology.
How are inequalities constructed?
Our system is based on a binary categorisation coupled with a hierarchy between the two. Stereotypes are attributed to each: they are strong, notably because of heritage and media representations (e.g. toys, activities, books which are more segmented than 20 years ago). There are leadership models that are imbued with them: while some men do not seek to attain a leadership position, most women do not even have access to it.
Why have stereotypes been reinforced?
If the media and marketing have just been mentioned, the following elements have been added: the "backlash" representing the back-and-forth in the fight for women's rights, the period of crisis, weakened (the differences between social classes or nationalities are more blurred, the difference between women and men is the last one to "cling" to in order to find reference points). The problem is that the causality is misunderstood: it is said that the reason why there are so many women in the social professions is because they are more concerned about the well-being of others, but it is not because they are concerned about others that they will go into these professions. We then enter a loop that reinforces the stereotypes. A clarification was added: there is not only sexism but also androcentrism. Everything revolves around men, equality does not exist, androcentrism is everywhere. A clear example is clothing: when we talk about the neutrality of clothing, we mean the clothing worn by men.
"At a meeting there were 3 or 4 women instead of the usual 1 or 2: the men felt like they were in minority, when in fact there were more!"
- What advice do you have for equality education?
You can change patterns when you are aware of them. All stereotypes are integrated from a very young age and maintained by the environment. We need to take a step back and not feel guilty. We are not responsible for our heritage but we are responsible for perpetuating it without thinking or changing it. We need to put the issue of equality back at the centre of the social debate and not as a marginal issue. For teachers, the fact equality is enshrined in the Swiss Constitution and therefore a teaching mission and not a personal attachment is used to engage them in this teaching.
In practical terms:
- exposure: change school textbooks by increasing the representation of women in all areas. We know that children integrate these models, for example in the United States, children born during the presidency of Barack Obama integrated the president as black.
- choice: there should be no barriers if a young boy wants to play with dolls, for example.
It was noted that from the age of 12, identity patterns are very strong, but that from the age of 16, questions about these patterns are already being raised, as shown by this anecdote
A young girl starts crying: "I always wanted to play football but my father said no during my entire life" she had to attend a dance class.
II - Prevention
This part welcomed Isabelle Chmetz, Head of the Mally-Prairie shelter for women victims of violence (1200 consultations and 200 accommodations), Valérie Vuille, Representative of DécadréE, an association defending gender equality in the media and Sigolène Chavanne, co-founder of Artemia.
In Switzerland etween 2009 and 2016, one woman every week was beaten to death by her partner.
Why is violence so prevalent?
Domestic violence sets in gradually but the strong attachment and trust makes it almost undetectable. This violence can be psychological, controlling, financial, physical, sexual etc. It is a tool for reinforcing inequalities. We often think of insults and beatings, but we must also consider the daily injunctions: street harassment, the obligation to smile, the difficulty of walking alone in the street at night, etc. We also note the treatment of gender-based violence by journalists: the terms "family drama" or "crime of passion" attenuate the violent aspect.
In companies, we have both ordinary sexism (behaviour that relegates women to an inferior status) and benevolent sexism (not promoting a woman because the responsibilities are "too big", the "false protection" is an injunction to "stay in your place"). They are rarely intentional, "we don't know what we are doing wrong in our reflexes". Concerning sexual harassment, there is very little information but it represents a lot of behaviour (showing sexual images, making sexual proposals to female employees, etc.). In the company, opposing this behaviour is even more violent because of the hierarchy. When a woman speaks out, managers are displaced or leave their jobs quietly. The problem is displaced but not permanently resolved.
How do we get out of the Power-Domination-Violence structure?
You have to be aware of the violence and this is very delicate. It is regularly at the time of awareness that homicides take place because this is the moment when power is lost. In the workplace, one often feels "abnormal" in discomfort and isolation. It is common to see words being released at the first person who dares to speak. This can be facilitated by the use of discussion groups. Men can also take action and not follow peer pressure.
III - Action
This discussion hosted Michela Bovolenta, Women's Rights Officer at the Public Services Union and holder of the Human Rights Award from Le Courrier magazine.
- How do we make the Women's Strike work?
We must all get involved! It will be thanks to the accumulation of energy. This strike will serve to re-launch the process towards equality. Women take on a lot of tasks, including the mental burden, childcare, etc.: the strike serves to make all these actions visible. Equality must be both at work and at home: in 1991, women brought their laundry basket to work and male colleagues ironed it. On 14 June 2019, it will be about paid and unpaid work: it will be a day without work either at work or at home. There are collectives formed throughout French-speaking Switzerland. For the men, it is up to them to propose how they want to participate.
During a similar strike in Madrid LGBTQ+ associations came up with the idea and organized childcare and rest areas during the event.
- How to participate ?
The 2019 event is over, but stay tunned for future ones via facebook or a quick research on the internet! If you still haven't found anything you can always contact your favourite association on campus @Polyquity on instagram.
Questions from the pubic
I would highlight two points from the questions. First, the claim of "the right to be angry" when the remark is said to be sexist. Second, an anecdote:
I realised that when a friend announced that she was pregnant and that her working hours were going to be cut, I would systematically turn to the father and ask "How much are you getting off?"