Image credit: KlimaSeniorinnen

Sexism Is Rampant In Switzerland As Parliament Rejects Court Ruling In Favor Of Senior Women

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Switzerland is the land of well -scrubbed villages dotting Alpine slopes and Ricola ads. It’s the charming story of Heidi, the young girl who lives in the Swiss Alps with her kindly grandfather. It is a country that prides itself on its ability to avoid being drawn into the armed conflicts that bedevil its neighbors. In Switzerland, discretion is highly prized, especially in matters where money is involved. And so it comes as a bit of surprise that the parliament of Switzerland has soundly rejected a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights two months ago that found in favor of a group of senior Swiss women who call themselves KlimaSeniorinnen.

Heatwaves are getting hotter as people burn fossil fuels, and women, particularly older ones, are more likely to die when temperatures soar. Heat is far more dangerous than people realize. Doctors say during periods of hot weather, some victims drop dead when working or living outdoors. Many more die in retirement homes and hospitals because their bodies have been weakened from the weather and are unable to fight off diseases that harm the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Heat killed an extra 70,000 people across Europe last year, according to the latest analysis of mortality and temperature data, and the death toll this year, the hottest on record, may prove higher still.

“Based on current evidence from epidemiological studies, older women are particularly vulnerable to heat,” Ana Vicedo-Cabrera, who leads the climate and health team at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Berne, told the court. The reasons why are unclear, she said, but “changes in the cardiovascular system due to menopause or the fact that older women tend to be more active than men have been proposed as potential reasons.” Sharpeyed readers will note that Berne is in Switzerland, making the information from Vicedo-Cabrera especially relevant to a case involving Swiss women.

Switzerland Has Failed Older Women

The women claimed in their petition to the court that older women are especially susceptible to health risk from global heating and that Switzerland has not done enough to protect them from harm. Scientists have found that older women die at higher rates during heatwaves, which have grown hotter, longer and more common as people have pumped out pollutants that trap sunlight. A study from doctors and climate scientists found 60% of the heatwave deaths in Switzerland in summer 2022 were the result of climate change and that older women were hit hardest. One member of KlimaSeniorinnen, Pia Hollenstein, told The Guardian, “Our generation has done so much to destroy the climate. We have a responsibility. It serves everyone if we can successfully make Switzerland do more.” In April of this year, the court agreed.

You might think Switzerland, with its passion for upholding the law and being correct in all things, would honor the court’s ruling, but you would be wrong. According to The Guardian, the lower house of parliament in Switzerland loudly rejected the decision in the most boorish and sexist way possible. By a vote of 111 to 72, it voted to disregard the court’s ruling on the basis that the judges had overstepped their bounds and that Switzerland had done enough to address the climate crisis. The declaration, which has been adopted by the upper house but does not bind the federal government, accused the court of “inadmissible and disproportionate judicial activism.”

“This is terrible from a rule of law perspective,” Corina Heri, a law researcher at the University of Zürich said. She added that “the whole system would fall apart” if lots of states started to pick and choose which rulings they complied with. “The term ‘slippery slope’ is overused, obviously, but it is a dangerous precedent to create.”

Fear & Loathing In Switzerland

The KlimaSeniorinnen, or Swiss female climate elders, are a group of 2,400 women over the age of 65 who took the Swiss government to court for failing to do its fair share to stop the planet heating by 1.5º C (2.7º F). After years of setbacks in regional and national courts, they escalated the case to Europe’s top human rights court and scored a partial victory. But in a fiery debate on Wednesday, Swiss politicians attacked the court and mocked the women.

Jean-Luc Addor, from the right wing populist Swiss People’s Party, the largest in the federal assembly, said: “These ‘climate elder’ are just a bunch of apparently healthy “boomeuses” [female boomers], who are trying to deny our children the living conditions they have enjoyed all their lives.”

Prior to the debate in the Switzerland parliament, the KlimaSeniorinnen and Greenpeace submitted a petition with 22,000 signatures urging politicians to recognize that human rights are the basis of democracy and should be independent of political majorities. Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, co-president of the KlimaSeniorinnen, said she was appalled by the declaration, and that it was not worthy of a constitutional state. “The declaration is a betrayal of us older women — and of all those who are suffering from the real consequences of global warming today and in the future.”

The Guardian notes that the vote in the Switzerland parliament took place just a few days after far right candidates won sizable gains in European Union elections. Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, will mark the 50th anniversary of its ratification of the European convention on human rights in November. The convention legally commits it to implementing the court’s judgments, a fact its parliament seems blissfully unaware of.

Evelyne Schmid, a professor of international law at the University of Lausanne, said small states such as Switzerland have a particular interest in respecting international treaties and that the declaration from politicians will put the federal government in a difficult position. “Members of parliament and everyone else can criticize judgments they don’t like. That’s of course legitimate in a democracy and courts exist precisely for situations in which there is disagreement. But a parliament officially accusing the institution of ‘undue judicial activism’ sends a different, problematic message.”

The Takeaway

What is startling here is the vitriol toward the KlimaSeniorinnen. You can bet your last Swiss franc that if the scientific data showed men were more susceptible to global heating, the members of parliament would be running around like their hair was on fire demanding action! But because it is just a group of older women, they feel safe in demonizing them instead of respecting their needs.

A warming planet doesn’t care about gender. It is a threat to all of us. It is absurd to exclude an entire group of humans from protection on the basis of sex. It will take all of us working together to meet the challenge of climate change. The human race needs to be like a finely tuned V-8 engine firing on all cylinders. Why disable half of those cylinders on the basis of ideology? Isn’t that like cutting off your nose to spite your face?

To the Jean-Luc Addors of the world, get a clue, the mother you save could be your own. And stop strutting around like having a penis gives you some special right to disparage those who don’t. Only ignorant people think that way. You have now revealed yourself to be a sexist jackass of the first degree and an international pariah. You must be so very proud.


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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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