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Voting For Members

Will Switzerland introduce obligatory military service for women?

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

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

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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.

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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.

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“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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