Study on "anti-gender" policy in Switzerland and Europe

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A Europe-wide research project shows where and how "anti-gender" policies manifest themselves in different countries. It also exists in Switzerland, as a partial study by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, the University of Lausanne and the University of Fribourg shows.

’Anti-gen­der’ policy refers to efforts aimed at restricting sexual and gender diversity and gender equality. It manifests itself in different national contexts in Southern, Eastern and Western Europe. Although it is primarily associated with the far right, it can be found across the political spectrum. An international research project has investigated the form in which such ’anti-gender’ policies manifest themselves in various European countries.

Europe-wide research project

The study is the first cross-national research to shed light on ’anti-gender’ politics in parliaments, media and public controversies in a pan-European context. It analyzed 200 parliamentary debates at national level and over 2000 newspaper articles from 87 media outlets in Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the European Parliament between 2015 and 2023. The research findings show several patterns of how the rights of women and LGBTIQ+ people were challenged during this period. In all countries surveyed, it was found that the rights of trans people and the recognition of LGBTIQ+ rights in particular were challenged through regular political initiatives or parliamentary debates.

’A key tactic is the attempt to categorize any form of LGBTIQ+ visibility and advocacy as "aggressive activism",’ says Stefanie Boulila. In parliamentary debates, this is often done by accusing the ’majority population’ of having the ideas and values of an unrepresentative minority imposed on them. ’In this way, a politician can present themselves as a defender of the rights of children or parents, of freedom of speech or even of democracy,’ says the HSLU lecturer.

’Anti-gen­der’ policy in Switzerland

As part of this Europe-wide project, the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, the University of Lausanne and the University of Fribourg have examined Switzerland for ’anti-gender’ policies. The results of the study clearly show that there are also ’anti-gender’ policies in Switzerland.

For example, ’anti-gender’ politics in this country can be seen in the discourse on the supposed early sexualization of children and the promotion of different gender and sexual identities. The study shows that in political discourse, the recognition of gender and sexual diversity is often associated with a supposed threat to children and young people. For example, educational offers such as national sex education campaigns or drag queen readings are criticized as immoral and dangerous if they educate children about sexualities and queer identities.

What is particularly striking in Switzerland: In parliamentary debates, ’anti-gender’ politics rarely manifests itself in the form of hostile or inflammatory contributions, but for the most part in the form of technocratic and legalistic discourse. In the debate on simplifying the procedure for changing registered gender, fears of a possible abuse of the system with regard to retirement age and military service were raised. ’This shows that resistance to gender equality and sexual orientation does not necessarily have to take the form of emotionally charged and distinctly ideological discourse,’ says the study director. This means that ’anti-gender’ politics are not always tangible as such.

Effects to be examined

The aim of this first study was to find out how ’anti-gender’ policies are manifested in different countries. These findings should now make it possible to investigate the topic in more detail in further studies. The researchers want to find out how ’anti-gender’ policies affect everyday experiences, freedom of expression, academic freedom, reproductive rights and gender diversity. The study is due to be completed in fall 2026.

Horizon RESIST

The project is being carried out by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts in collaboration with University College Dublin, Edinburgh Napier University, European University Viadrina, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Université de Lausanne, Université de Fribourg, Maynooth University, Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research, Athens. The transnational parliamentary and media analysis was led by Maynooth University.

Horizon Europe is the world’s largest research and innovation funding program and the research projects funded by it as part of the RESIST study were selected in a competitive process. The study was also supported by research councils and funding bodies in the UK and Switzerland.