The Status of Jewish Women
in Switzerland

Wednesday Matinee
11 August 2021

In the nine­te­enth cen­tu­ry, par­al­lel to the foun­ding of Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Switz­er­land, Jewish women’s asso­cia­ti­ons also came into being. The oldest Jewish women’s asso­cia­ti­on in Switz­er­land is the «Israe­li­ti­sche Frau­en­ver­ein Basel», foun­ded pro­ba­b­ly in 1834. In the first years of their exis­tence, the Jewish women’s asso­cia­ti­ons main­ly car­ri­ed out cha­ri­ta­ble work.

In 1924, the «Fede­ra­ti­on of Swiss Jewish Women’s Asso­cia­ti­ons» («Bund Schwei­ze­ri­scher Jüdi­scher Frau­en­ver­ei­ne» or BSJF) was foun­ded as an umbrel­la orga­ni­sa­ti­on for Jewish women’s asso­cia­ti­ons in Switz­er­land. Their aim was to net­work the indi­vi­du­al asso­cia­ti­ons with each other. Whe­ther women in the indi­vi­du­al Jewish com­mu­ni­ties were gran­ted the right to vote and to be elec­ted in com­mu­ni­ty affairs was deci­ded auto­no­mously by the various com­mu­ni­ties. Accor­din­gly, the Jewish com­mu­ni­ties intro­du­ced voting and elec­to­ral rights at dif­fe­rent times: The Jewish com­mu­ni­ty of La-Chaux-de-Fonds, for exam­p­le, gran­ted voting and elec­to­ral rights to the wives of its mem­bers in 1959. By the 1970s, seve­ral Jewish com­mu­ni­ties had fol­lo­wed this exam­p­le, such as the Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Ber­ne, Gen­e­va, Fri­bourg, St. Gall and the Jewish com­mu­ni­ty of Zurich.

Today, many com­mu­ni­ties have fema­le mem­bers on the board or even fema­le pre­si­dents, which is also thanks to the work of the BSJF and its mem­bers. On a Swiss insti­tu­tio­nal level, Jewish women have been able to take on important offices sin­ce 1971: Ursu­la Koch was Zurich city coun­cil­lor from 1986–1998, Clau­dia Kauf­mann beca­me the first head of the Fede­ral Office for Gen­der Equa­li­ty in 1988, and Vera Rot­ten­berg beca­me a fede­ral judge in 1994. In 1993, Ruth Drei­fuss, a Jewish woman, was elec­ted Fede­ral Coun­cil­lor of Switz­er­land, some­thing that had, until then, see­med unthinkable even in Jewish circles.

verfasst am 17.12.2021