On This Day in 1984: Women’s Suffrage in Liechtenstein

Source: US Global Legal Monitor

On July 1, 1984, women’s suffrage was introduced in Liechtenstein— making it the last European country to do so. Liechtenstein is situated between Switzerland and Austria and has a total of 38,557 inhabitants. In the 1984 national referendum, a slim majority of 2,370 (male) voters (51.3%) approved the right of Liechtenstein women to vote and stand for election. Article 29, paragraph 2 of the Constitution was amended to read:

All Liechtenstein citizens who have completed their 20th year, have their normal residence in Liechtenstein, and whose right to vote has not been suspended shall be entitled to all political rights in national matters.

In the first elections in which women were allowed to participate, held in 1986, one woman (Emma Eigenmann) was elected to the parliament (Landtag). At that time, the parliament consisted of 15 representatives. The parliament in Liechtenstein has consisted of 25 representatives since 1988. (Constitution, art. 46.) The number of female representatives has fluctuated over time. (Marxer (2013), at 20.) In the last elections held in February 2021, seven women were elected to the parliament, a new record, raising the percentage of female representation to 28%. The new government that was sworn in in March 2021 has a female majority: three women and two men.

Liechtenstein Parliament. June 9, 2019. Photo by Flickr user crash71100. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Historical Development

A first referendum on women’s suffrage, held on February 28, 1971, was rejected by a narrow majority of 51.09% of voters; only 81 more votes were needed to amend the Constitution. A second referendum held just two years later on February 11, 1973, again resulted in a rejection of the proposal, this time by 55.9% of voters. (BuA No. 47/1983, at 10 et seq.) One of the main reasons why women were denied the right to vote was a fear that foreign women who married a Liechtenstein citizen would “take over.” (Marxer (2004), at 6.) At the time, foreign women gained Liechtenstein citizenship by marrying a man from Liechtenstein, whereas a woman who married a foreigner lost her Liechtenstein citizenship. This situation was remedied in 1974 when an amendment to the Citizenship Act was passed that allowed women who had lost their citizenship through marriage to a foreigner to apply to regain their citizenship within five years.

In 1976, a constitutional amendment authorized municipalities to grant women the right to vote in municipal elections by adopting a communal assembly resolution. Vaduz became the first municipality to introduce women’s suffrage on September 19, 1976. Other municipalities soon followed suit, with the exception of the municipality of Schaan, where women’s suffrage was rejected. (BuA No. 47/1983, at 14.)

In 1982, the Liechtenstein Constitutional Court (Staatsgerichtshof, StGH) had to rule on whether not granting women the right to vote was unconstitutional. (StGH 1982/12, in: LES 1983, at 69.) The suit, filed by 24 women, was based on article 31 of the Constitution which states that “[a]ll Liechtenstein citizens shall be equal before the law.” Citizens is understood to mean “all persons holding Liechtenstein national citizenship without distinction of sex.” However, the Constitutional Court held that this article only applied to general rights and not to political rights (i.e., the rights to vote and stand for election). In addition, the Court quoted the New Testament, stating that “[y]our women, let them be silent in the assemblies” as a factor that might have influenced women’s suffrage in Europe. The Constitutional Court concluded that the question of introducing female suffrage was a political question and had to be decided by amending the Constitution.

However, pressure to introduce women’s suffrage was mounting, in particular because Liechtenstein joined the Council of Europe in 1978 and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1982. In September 1983, in reaction to the Constitutional Court ruling, 12 members of the women’s activist organization “Aktion Dornröschen” (Operation Sleeping Beauty) travelled to Strasbourg to make the Council of Europe aware of the situation of women in Liechtenstein. Some criticized this move as “counterproductive.” Nonetheless, the following year, a new referendum was scheduled, which resulted in the introduction of women’s suffrage. (Marxer (2004), at 9.)

Shall women vote? Ehrhart, Samuel D.,1862-1937. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26363.

Further Resources

If you are interested in issues concerning women’s suffrage in Liechtenstein, or women’s suffrage and women’s rights in general, feel free to consult the following selected resources: