Partial Implementation of an Old Postulate

Maternity insurance had been a topic of debate since the 1920s and a constitutional obligation since 1945. However, funding concerns proved hard to dispel. In fact, the breakthrough did not come until 2004, when it was decided that maternity benefits would be financed as part of the military income compensation scheme.

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The popular referendum of 26th September 2004 failed to introduce a maternity insurance that would provide benefits for all mothers. Instead, the solution that emerged was limited to income compensation. Maternity insurance had been a topic of debate since the 1920s. Though the constitutional foundation had been laid in 1945, many attempts to implement the concept in legislation failed – be it as part of health insurance (1987) or by means of a popular initiative (1984). The 1991 women's strike, calling for the implementation of the equality article, once again drew attention to maternity insurance. With the election of Social Democrat Ruth Dreifuss to the Federal Council, the project gained a champion at the highest level.

A renewed push for a solution that would be funded through value added tax returns was rejected in a 1999 referendum. The bill provided for a 14-week maternity allowance for gainfully employed mothers and a one-time basic benefit available to all gainfully employed and non-working mothers. Right-wing parties and business associations, questioning the financial feasibility of the scheme, launched a referendum.  Differences between western Switzerland (in favor) and German-speaking Switzerland (in opposition) as well as between cities and rural areas, as well as between generationsand different educational backgrounds played a major role here. However, the response to the referendum outcome showed that the issue had gained wide support nevertheless. The canton of Geneva even introduced its own cantonal maternity insurance in 2001.

Representatives from all parties in the Federal Council prepared a compromise at the federal level that found majority backing despite another referendum campaign launched by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) in September 2004. Many voters who had rejected the proposal in 1999 now came out in support. The maternity compensation was set up as part of the income compensation scheme into which employed women had paid contributions since 1940. Just like the income compensation scheme, it was funded exclusively by payroll contributions. It guaranteed 80 percent of the last income for a period of 14 weeks. In contrast to previous proposals, however, only women gainfully employed prior to childbirth were eligible for benefits.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Année politique Suisse / Schweizerische Politik, 1990–1994; Studer Brigitte (1997), Familienzulagen statt Mutterschaftsversicherung? Die Zuschreibung der Geschlechterkompetenzen im sich formierenden Schweizer Sozialstaat, 1920–1945, Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte, 47, 151–170; Hauser, Karin (2004), Die Anfänge der Mutterschaftsversicherung. Deutschland und Schweiz im Vergleich, Zürich; Studer Brigitte, Sutter Gaby (2001), Die ‚schutzbedürftige Frau‘. Zur Konstruktion von Geschlecht durch Mutterschaftsversicherung, Nachtarbeitsverbot und Sonderschutzgesetzgebung, Zürich.