On Tuesday, October 11, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled that recent reforms to Switzerland’s pension system represented discrimination against men.
Specifically, Switzerland eliminated widowers’ pensions while keeping widows’ pensions in place. Previously, both men and women whose spouses had died were entitled to a pension when their youngest child reached adulthood, but now men can no longer receive it. The justification is that men are the primary breadwinners in Swiss households and therefore not in need of a pension.
Of course, this decision by the Swiss authorities is a perfect example of how gender roles create a cycle that reinforces them over the centuries. Men aren’t the breadwinners by choice. They have to be the breadwinners because policies like these provide them with no community support. It’s the same as the complaint that men make more money than women while ignoring the fact that men have to choose higher-paying jobs because the lack of social support means they have no safety net.
Luckily, the ECHR realized this as well. They ruled that this Swiss pension reform relied on reinforcement of gender roles that discriminated against men. Their official press release stated:
“In the Court’s view, the government could not rely on the presumption that the husband supported the wife financially (the ‘male breadwinner’ concept) in order to justify a difference in treatment that put widowers at a disadvantage in relation to widows.”
The ruling was also refreshing in that it specifically called out the discrepancy as a “disadvantage” for men, implying discrimination against men and thereby accepting on a large scale that discrimination against men can exist.
Presumably, the ruling could allow Swiss men to sue the government for widower’s pension or force the Swiss government to reform its pension system once again.