Swiss Women Have A Face on Franc, Yet Struggle to Earn It

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

SOPHIE TAEUBER-ARP, an abstract artist, will go down in history as the first Swiss woman featured on the country's currency. But despite Switzerland's sweeping campaign to honor the woman, including the new 50- franc bill on which she appears, most women here are still struggling for equal rights.

Men only granted women voting and election rights in 1971, nearly half a century after American women. Only the men from neighboring Liechtenstein took longer. And only in 1991 did some Swiss cantons finally award women the right to vote on the local level.

''Everywhere else around Europe, and the world I think, the government gave the right to women,'' said Simone Chapeus, president of Switzerland's Association for Women's Rights. ''But here we needed the men to change their minds.... We've had to fight for a century, and we're not through.''

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Since women won election rights, their numbers in both houses of government have increased, from 7 percent in the late 1970s to about 21 percent in the lower house for 1994.

Yet working women also are dismissed more quickly than men on the grounds that they are ''second income'' earners because they have children or may have children, according to a paper by a Swiss historian published in a recent report from the Federal Commission for Women's Issues. And when they do work, they earn less than men do.

The country still appears to be structured on the assumption that women fare better in the kitchen than in the boardroom. And unlike the United States, where working women can take advantage of small conveniences like 24-hour supermarkets, Swiss women know no such thing.

''It seems to be a society where it's hard to be a woman,'' says Arcangela Richards, president of the American Women's Club of Lausanne. ''When your kids come home for lunch here and Migros [a supermarket chain] closes at 6 p.m., it's kind of hard to work. Many women here feel like they're beating their heads against a wall.''

''You can't exactly call us progressive,'' says Roland Bless, the Federal Chancellory's spokesman. ''There had to be a judgement for the high court of Lausanne to force certain cantons to allow women to vote just a few years ago.''

Homemakers face obstacles too, Ms. Chapeus says. Until 1988, Swiss decreed that men could decide where to live and whether their wives could work. Women weren't allowed to keep their maiden name, and all of their assets became their husbands' upon marriage.

But women have had success in the military. More than 2,000 women volunteers aged 18 to 28 are members of the military. While they are restricted from combat, as in the US, they appear to have more chances to hold superior ranks than in civilian life.

''Here, in Switzerland, you really can't go back to your job if you've been home raising your children,'' said Brig. Gen. Eugenie Pollak, chief of the Women's Military Service and the military's sole female one-star general. ''But in the military, they can get into the reserves, and they will have a career to come back to if they choose.''

General Pollak, whose mother served in the Army, said many women join to show that they can be equally useful for their country. Paternalistic attitudes die hard, however. Although women can become Army helicopter pilots, they must have permission from a parent or husband.

''My grandmother was a tough suffragette and fought for the women's vote,'' Pollak said. ''Sometimes I feel we're still fighting for the same thing.''

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