Swiss Sunday: Women’s Work

A couple of weeks ago, my sister in law and her 2.5-year-old visited. As all 2.5-year-olds do when they are away from home, he came down with a high fever (40.3 Celsius, or 104.5 Fahrenheit). So, my kids’ pediatrician agreed to see him on short notice. We’ve been going there since we moved here, 9 years ago, and long before I spoke any German.

Because my sister-in-law doesn’t speak any German, I filled out the paperwork. It was pretty standard until I came to the part about the parents. It asked:

  • Father’s name
  • Father’s birthdate
  • Father’s occupation

and then

  • Mother’s name
  • Mother’s birthdate
  • Mother’s former occupation

Because, of course, mom couldn’t be currently working, right?

I shared this story on one of my Facebook expat groups and several other women who live in Switzerland piped up. One wasn’t allowed to be the primary renter on an apartment–her husband had to be–even though her husband was a stay at home dad and she was the one working. Another noted that their apartment rental agreement had asked for the husband’s (or male partner’s) occupation followed by wife’s (or female partner’s) occupation and added on a percent for the female. (No one says I work 20 hours a week here–if you’re not full time you talk about percent, so 20 hours a week would be 50 percent.)

Now, I for one, love that so many Swiss (and it’s mostly women) have the opportunity to work part-time. Anecdotally, I see a lot more professional part-time work available here than I ever did in the Us. (One I see often is 80 percent–which usually translates into a four day work week.) But it bugs me that that is the assumption. Which is kind of ironic because I, personally, work 50 percent. (Officially–lately it’s been creeping up to the 60-75 percent range, but I’m smashing it back down while my kids are on summer vacation.)

The other irony is that our pediatrician’s office is 100 percent female staffed. There are three pediatricians–all female, and two assistants (techs/receptionists), all female). While I haven’t had many conversations with two of the pediatricians, our main one (who I adore and think is fabulous) has multiple children and grandchildren. Incidentally, all three pediatricians work part-time, as does one of the assistants.

I’m sure one of the things that contributes to women working part-time or not at all is the school system. Children come home for lunch every day. And my son, who will be entering 5th grade in August, still only has afternoon school three days a week. Wednesdays and Thursdays he’s done at noon. While I think this is developmentally great for children, it’s a pain the behind for working parents.

Yes, you can find childcare for the two hours the kids are home for lunch.  Yes, it’s expensive. Some schools offer a “lunch table” so the kids don’t have to leave the school, but in others, you’re on your own.

I’ve wondered why Swiss women haven’t risen up in rebellion, but perhaps they like it. Women do value flexibility over money, so perhaps this system forces businesses to offer that flexibility if they want more employees. I’m not sure.

Regardless, for the record, my sister-in-law teaches English at a university in Turkey, where she lives. And she’s very good at it.

And my nephew is doing just fine. One of those random toddler fevers, undoubtedly caused by a virus.

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