Taking a guided tour through your own city is a fun thing to do, since it makes you notice spots you’ve never come across or beauty you’ve come to ignore. However, the feminist walk through Basel by the Verein Frauenstadtrundgang has not only made me rediscover Basel with new eyes, but has brought to my mind that I enjoy “my Basel” in the way I do thanks to the feminist movements.
Today, a Russian feminist asked me about my favourite characteristics of Basel. What immediately came to my mind was Rhine swimming, which I adore. There’s nothing like a swim in the Rhine and an after-beer at the Buvette (bar at the river bank) after a long day at the university library. – And what does Rhine swimming have to do with feminism? Well, women were not allowed to swim in the Rhine until 1847!
Another hallmark of Basel is Fasnacht, a form of Carnival. Fasnacht is crucial to Basel’s identity. It counts as an official holiday, thus everything from university to the shops is closed. Almost every one is out on the streets in order to watch the cortège, the Fasnacht procession of the traditional cliques of pipers and drummers. The cliques are very prestigious and practice all year long for their big week. – Once again, however, what does Fasnacht have to do with feminism? Well, women were not allowed to join a clique and participate in the cortège until 1948! And from 1948 till the 70s they were only accepted in a clique if their father or brother was already a member. And, as we know, there are still cliques which exclude women from participating today.
To me, the most important institution of Basel is the university, since it is the reason why I moved here in the first place. However, as our tour guide pointed out, the university was and still is a contested battle ground for feminist struggle. The first woman who entered the University of Basel was Emilie Frey in 1890. With the help of her father and political support she fought her way as a student of medicine into and through university.
Consequently, reflecting on Basel’s characteristics through international contacts at the WIDE conference and through taking the feminist walk through Basel opened my eyes once again for the significance of the women’s movement for my personal life. Thus, all the hallmarks that define Basel for me and determine my way of living the city have not been accessible for women until recently. Former feminists have cleared the way for me and whole generations of women.
Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go. As the tour guides pointed out, prostitution was banned after the Reformation, yet it remained as a black market behind the famous Cathedral. Nowadays, prostitution is legally established in Kleinbasel. However, despite its legality its dark sides of oppression and violence remain, facilitated by the silencing of the suffering and the immanent power inequalities. And as we know, the illegal side to it may be even darker, speaking of women and children trafficking. Hence, in today’s Basel women’s bodies are still exploited by men and women for financial, sexual, psychological, social reasons…
Moreover, the university is still not an equally open space to men and women. More than a century has passed since Emilie Frey has entered university and become the first student of medicine. More and more women are seeking higher education. However, they’re not on an equal footing with men yet: 89% of the professorships at the medicinal faculty are still held by men.
As we know, there are still many more battles to be fought. And hopefully, a century from now, a new generation of feminists will take feminist walks through their cities and think back to the successes we have achieved in our feminist struggles today. Let’s take care of that!