De la cuisine au parlement (“From the Kitchen to the Parliament”, DOC 2021) // Women’s Rights Since 1919

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Die göttliche Ordnung makes history fun, but also brackets a great deal. In reality, Nora’s victory in 1971 was both the end of a long, complex battle, and the beginning of a new struggle for proper gender equality.

This Swiss French documentary fills in the gaps. In 66 breathless minutes it propels us through a century-long conflict between patriarchal consensus democracy and generations of women’s rights activists. The story is driven by prime cuts of archive footage, and contextualized with interviews with legendary female politicians alongside transitions by the narrator, Stéphane Goël.

The narrative begins in the postwar era, when proponents of the vote resolved to gain it “ville par ville, canton par canton”. It progresses to the “Long Sixties” after the failed national referendum of 1959 and first regional victories. After the key vote in 1971 we are led to the present day, via some key victories such as the renouncement of men as the “head of the house” – in 1988, 17 years after events in Die göttliche Ordnung!

The 2021 “Extended Edition” of De la cuisine au parlement (currently available on PlaySuisse) adds 25 minutes of key events from 1991 to the present day, bookended by the two enormous “Women’s Strikes”.

The 1991 Women’s Strike

Worth a watch?

I originally watched this film as research for my review of Die göttliche Ordnung, but soon realized De la cuisine au parlement is above and beyond a normal TV documentary. It presents a riveting story in a beautifully simple format that plays to Goël’s skill in editing.

One question mark I still have is the shifting role of political parties and ideological positions. The left-wing Socialist Party clearly has more influence in the later part of the documentary, but of those first 12 National Councillors in parliament in 1971, 4 were CVP (Catholic centrists) and three FDP (centre-right). Lise Girardin was FDP, as was Elizabeth Kopp.

But that’s a minor detail. The main thing is that the film entertained and informed me for its entire runtime, and, as a foreigner in the process of naturalization, it made me reflect on my future role in the fight for women’s rights. I can’t think of a bigger compliment than that.

Swissness Difficulty Level
Säntis (intermediate). If you’ve got the necessary equipment (having seen
Die göttliche Ordnung first helps) you’re in for an excellent trip which is very well signposted.

French with G and I subs on PlaySuisse. There are E subs on the DVD apparently.

The 2021 edition is free on PlaySuisse. CHF5 to stream the 2012 edition on Artfilm. There’s a DVD around too.

Swissness Lab Report: Women’s Rights Since 1919

The following is a brief outline of some of the most interesting events described in the film. You might also be interested in SMD’s review of Die göttliche Ordnung, and here’s what contemporary Swiss women have to say about the film and the state of women’s rights today.

Postwar defeats: 1919-1959

The four “classic” voting posters above illustrate twentieth century arguments against women’s suffrage: In order, we have 1) the Preserve Femininity Argument (“Do you want women like this?”); 2) the Too Fragile for Politics Argument (“Vote Red” – “Vote Yellow” – “If you don’t want this, vote NO”); 3) the Threat to Our Children Argument; 4) the Women will Beat Us With Carpet Dusters Argument (???).

The story really begins after the end of the First World War, when countries around Switzerland like the UK, Austria, Germany and Poland grant women partial or universal suffrage. Nine referendums to grant women a cantonal vote took place between 1919 and 1929, across all the linguistic regions. They were all rejected. This trend continued long after the Second World War.

One of the many crucial insights I got from De la cuisine au parlement was the role of the highly influential Catholic Women’s Associations fighting against suffrage until 1957. When they finally changed their minds, the first national referendum almost immediately took place.

The Long Sixties: 1959-1971
Lise Girardin (FDP), elected Councillor at the Grand Conseil of Geneva (1961), Mayor of Geneva (1968), and the first female State Councillor (1971)

The 1959 campaign failed miserably (66% “no”), but the first communes and cantons did finally see victories. Women went to the polls, and were elected as politicians, for the first time in Geneva, Neuchâtel and the Vaud. It feels appropriate that much of the film draws from French language footage and is narrated in French; this part of Switzerland made the first breakthrough.

Again and again we see citizens, both male and female, rejecting the vote because women belong at home and men know more about politics. Again and again in the 1960s the formidable Génèvoise councillor Lise Girardin is interviewed about how she manages her family responsibilities (Q. “When do you do the shopping?” A. “It’s very helpful to have a fridge”).

There’s some fascinating speculation from some key players of the day as to how the Hochkonjektur (the period of postwar economic success in Switzerland) affected the mindset leading up to 1968 and beyond. As consumerism became televized and individualized, women became more aware of the crucial economic function they played as consumers.

After the vote (1971-1991)
1984, Elizabeth Kopp (FDP), the first female Federal Councillor.

While in Die göttliche Ordnung the story begins and ends with the right to vote in 1971, this documentary shows how the fight was just beginning for Nora and her friends. For example, Nora’s husband forbids her from working, which he was legally entitled to do. He could also decide the location of the family home. Although in the film he changed his opinion, in reality the law hadn’t changed – it would take until 1988 for the man to be removed from his pedestal as “head of the family”.

Moments of victory which bring a lump to the throat are followed by nefarious parliamentary acts with their roots in patriarchal power plays, like the election in the 1980s of the first female Federal Councillor (Co-President), Elizabeth Kopp. She was later deposed for passing on inside information to her husband, and then cleared shortly afterwards. Everyone in the film agrees a man would never have been treated like that.

Strikes and beyond: 1991-the present

1993, SP candidates for the Federal Council: Christiane Brunner and Ruth Dreifuss

Especially intriguing after the 1991 Women’s Strike is the bitter fight to prevent Christiane Brunner (above left) from becoming Federal Councillor. This Socialist minister was one of the instigators of the Strike and was judged too radical, and passed up in favour of a man. After public outrage the position was given to Ruth Dreifuss, a more moderate choice.

This takes us up to my time in Switzerland. Paid maternity leave was only implemented in 2005, after a long struggle by Dreifuss and others – that was three years before I arrived. Paternity leave was only implemented last year (2020)!

The fight goes on…

In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Patrick Buttet (CVP) resigned in disgrace from the National Council after stalking and harassing an ex-girlfriend.


If you’re interested in the posters above, I’d recommend checking out this article in (German) outlining the pre-1959 reasons against women’s suffrage in more detail.
This SRF doc on YouTube (German) adds more information on how the 1968 movement influenced the ’71 election.
This 10 minute archive footage documents the fight for marriage equality in 1988.
This Tagi article (German, paywall) studies differences in voting trends between men and women in Swiss Parliament over the last few years.
And don’t forget to check out the SMD review of Die göttliche Ordnung and these interviews with Swiss women about the movie and the 2019 Women’s Strike.

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