Promotion of women by the SNSF: valid and necessary

The SNSF promotes women in research with the PRIMA funding scheme and its equality grants. A legal opinion now confirms that these equality measures are not just legally valid ¬- they are necessary.

Is it OK for the SNSF to offer internships only for women? Or does this amount to discrimination against men? Is it permissible to specifically promote women researchers, and if so, why? An internal legal opinion now summarises the legal aspects of measures promoting women.

Though it may seem a paradox at first, in the end it turns out to be quite straightforward: the SNSF has to treat men and women as equals. Neither may be discriminated against. But at the same time, the SNSF has an obligation to promote women for as long as there is gender inequality. And there certainly is in research. "We have to act on various levels and focus on the effectiveness of equality measures," says Simona Isler, gender equality representative of the SNSF.

Proportionality confirmed

The Federal Supreme Court has formulated conditions for such promotion measures. There needs to be a solid legal basis for them. And, importantly, they need to be proportionate. What does that mean? Promotion measures for women need to be proportional to existing gender inequality. This preferential treatment needs to be carefully balanced, ensuring that it promotes actual equality. "The legal opinion shows: the promotion measures of the SNSF fulfil these legal requirements," says Simona Isler.

Is the SNSF doing enough?

Does the SNSF offer suitable and effective measures? The legal opinion raises questions in this context. It is possible that the gender equality grant of 1000 francs per year, which researchers can use to pay for a coaching or training, has a rather limited impact.

The SNSF is committed to offering measures that effectively promote the equality of men and women in research. A working group is currently defining measures for the multi-year plan 2021-2024 of the SNSF. "I am confident that we will continue to strengthen gender equality. The legal opinion will support our efforts," says Simona Isler. "We cannot perform miracles, but we can target improvements."