In One Swiss Canton, the Men Still Yodel and the Women Can’t Vote


Cowbells tinkle and the wooden chalets are smothered in flowers. An occasional alpenhorn echoes in the distance.

This indeed is folklore Switzerland, where men yodel and women wear traditional costumes as part of everyday country life.

So tourists can hardly know of the rumblings below the peaceful and picturesque surface in Appenzell-Inner Rhodes. This miniature canton, or state, in the top northeast corner of the country is the last bastion of Swiss male domination, where women still cannot vote in local affairs.

Many of them are angry because they are denied their constitutional rights and--perhaps worse--made to look ridiculous.


It is also thought that Switzerland’s highest court will equivocate in ruling later this year on a complaint of violating equal rights.

“Appenzell is nothing more than a Disneyland,” stormed artist Roswitha Doerig. “Tradition which ignores people’s rights is bad tradition. Women who don’t care are merely being coquettish.”

True enough, a lot of Appenzell women don’t give a hoot and are very happy to stay out of the way and let the men play politics.

It was only in 1971 that Swiss men, in a national referendum, accepted female suffrage in federal matters. It already existed on local issues in some of the 26 cantons and others quickly followed.


Not, however, the ultra-traditional “half-cantons” of Protestant Appenzell-Outer Rhodes and Catholic Appenzell-Inner Rhodes.

Finally, in 1989, the men of Appenzell-Outer Rhodes (population 51,100) bowed to a high court ruling on equal rights.

But the men stood firm in Appenzell-Inner Rhodes, which has 13,700 people and is 66 square miles, about the size of Washington, D.C.

This year--and for the third time--they refused to give the 5,000 or so women of voting age a say in community affairs. With the traditional show of male hands in the town square, the proposal was defeated by a ratio of about 3 to 2.


The more militant women were outraged. They had, after all, used previously unimaginable measures: kitchen strikes, bedroom boycotts, even returning local tax bills.

“I’m paying my taxes to another canton where women at least have a say in how taxes are calculated,” said economist Monika Jacober.

Another woman, Dagmar Hersche, was more outspoken: “Are we women supposed to be children? What would men do without a woman at home? Without teachers? These men are not patriots. They’re schizophrenic idiots.”

For centuries local men have decided important local issues--usually the expenditure of money on public works--at a Landsgemeinde or community gathering every two or three years.


A woman at the tourist office, who asked to remain unidentified, said recently that an extraordinary second Landsgemeinde may be held this year because of all the unrest and a pending new court ruling.

“But things look bad because it must be convened by our local government,” she said.

She was right. In July, the Christian Democratic People’s Party, which runs Appenzell-Inner Rhodes, rejected having another show of hands in the town square.

“Lamentable,” scoffed Christine Langenberger-Jaeger. “The right of women to vote is not a political issue. It is a constitutional issue.”


Langenberger-Jaeger, a former president of the Swiss Women’s Rights Assn., is also pessimistic about its complaint to the high court.

“Cantonal rights come above all else in Switzerland. The Supreme Court, and far less the federal government, cannot force a canton to do something,” she said. “And the Supreme Court has not even indicated when it may hand down a ruling.”

In any case, there is a widely held feeling that the justices will hedge--saying that although the Constitution calls for equal rights, it also gives citizens the final say.

It has made a philosopher of Georgette Wachter, the secretary of the Women’s Rights Assn.


“It isn’t pleasant to be the last women in the developed world without voting rights locally, although it is true we can vote in national elections,” she said. “That makes us like women in some of the Arab emirates who have nothing to say.

“But we’ll live with it. After all, we’ve been fighting for a long time, and sooner or later the men will have to give in.”