Democracy can only work if as many individuals and groups as possible get involved and help shape our society. The Department of Justice and Home Affairs initiates and supports projects that promote participation.

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Participation has many faces

There is one important issue that the Department of Justice and Home Affairs addresses in many different ways: participation. Depending on the context, this term can stand for

  • encouraging others to participate (politics),
  • striving to speak to as many different social groups as possible (culture),
  • or the notion of bringing together what, at first glance, might seem incompatible and foreign (integration/equality/religion).

The Department has various objectives when it comes to participation and everything it implies: On an individual level, the concept of participation aims at making the inhabitants of the canton of Zurich feel included and heard, or at least not left behind. Regarding society at large, participation intends to promote different kinds of solidarity and involvement by finding ways and places for people to express themselves and exchange ideas and views. What’s important to know: A large part of the work that all departments do already serves the purpose of participation. This probably becomes most evident when taking a look at how the public schools work.

 

Jacqueline Fehr, Member of the Government Council

«Participation means shaping politics not for the people, but with the people»

Jacqueline Fehr, Member of the Government Council

Participation is fundamental to an evolving country

Society is changing rapidly, including in the canton of Zurich. Societal and social developments are becoming increasingly complex, which leads to significant changes. Digitization makes this visible. Globalized processes such as the climate or the economy make apparent how interconnected the world is. The increase in mobility and growing cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity also bring about change. New communities form within society, and others become less important and even threaten to disappear.

In an ever-changing and developing society, it is of paramount importance that people voluntarily help the community and show interest in exchanging views and ideas. A democratic state in particular needs as many individuals and groups as possible to see themselves as part of something bigger. Active exchange and participation of different communities in public life, that is the foundation of our state.

That is why the Government Council has dedicated two of the objectives of the ongoing legislature (2019 – 2022) to participation:

  • Objective no. 3 of the legislature states, »All people can participate in society.”
  • And objective no. 5 of the legislature says, »All demographic groups are included in this society which is becoming more and more diverse.”

The most important question for the Government Council’s policymaking is how everyone can participate in shaping our lives, our society, and our future.

 

Photograph of a rehearsal for the play »Töchter Europas” at the MAXIM Theater.
The right of all members of society to cultural participation requires new approaches to cultural work. The MAXIM Theater has decided to take on the challenge of creating them. Source: MAXIM Theater Image source: MAXIM Theater

The state does not impose – it facilitates

The state is part of a network, along with the public. In this network, it takes on the role of a moderator: it acts preventively and encourages cooperation. The state does not know any better than other social players the direction in which society is developing. That is why the state does not decide for the people, but in cooperation with the people, and whenever people turn away from the community, when some feel that they can't keep up with change or struggle to be a part of society due to cultural or economical reasons.

And an important prerequisite here is participation:

Advantages:

  • Advantages:
  • Participation means strengthening individual political and social involvement
    and giving it a platform.
  • Participation means giving everyone access to art and cultural events as well as to government services or subsidized services in general.
  • Participation means integrating diversity in the law – for example same-sex marriage or a clarification regarding the relationship between the state and the religious communities.
  • Participation means a fair distribution of the economic profit.
  • Participation means taking part in shaping our environment.
  • And participation also means adapting our right to vote to societal changes and developments.

That is how we can strengthen our society. And that is how we can strengthen diversity as the foundation of our society.

There are three different areas in which the Department of Justice and Home Affairs implements the Government Council’s participation objectives:

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Religion has always been a resource that strengthens social cohesion. Therefore, the Department of Justice and Home Affairs closely cooperates with the state-recognized religious communities. The Department is currently dedicating significant efforts to the growing number of religious communities that are not recognized by the state, such as Muslim or Christian Orthodox communities. They too make a valuable contribution to social cohesion. At present, however, the umbrella associations of both religious communities show organizational weaknesses and cannot fully perform their function. This is an issue that needs to be addressed with state support, an approach that also applies to the further training of religious mentors.

The municipalities are the backbone of our democracy. They are the place where trust can develop between citizens and politicians. In Switzerland, there is no significant gap between the so-called political elite and the people. This is very much owing to the municipalities. However, they are currently facing major challenges. Municipal work is often carried out by people on a part-time or even voluntary basis. This kind of commitment has come under pressure and is slowly disappearing due to the high demands of the working world but also due to an increasing number of attractive leisure time activities.

Here too, answers need to be found. How will municipalities continue to find committed citizens who are willing to keep the backbone of our democracy functional and attractive? How can access to administrative services be provided in a customer-friendly and simple way? Such questions are currently being discussed by working groups consisting of municipal and cantonal representatives as part of a project entitled «Municipalities 2030».

Culture is the third field by which the Department of Justice and Home Affairs promotes the Government Council’s participation objectives. The aim is to bring together diverse groups and individuals and to support cultural exchange. Culture creates identity, a feeling of belonging and community, and it succeeds in building bridges between generations, traditions, and cultures. By actively participating in cultural life, people become aware of their cultural identity, they are getting involved and contribute to the development of culture.

Since 2017, the Office for Cultural Affairs of the Department of Justice and Home Affairs has been promoting participation by awarding annual appreciation grants to individuals or institutions that encourage cultural participation. Moreover, traditional cultural institutions are becoming increasingly aware of the topic of participation thanks to the efforts of the Office for Cultural Affairs. The Canton of Zurich supports ideas that reach different target groups, thus providing easy access to cultural life. It is the objective that a wide variety of people participate in cultural processes and are encouraged to become creative themselves.

 

In addition to these three areas, there are projects to promote participation in the fields of equality and integration. Protection against discrimination is at the centre of them. Protecting people against discrimination is fundamental if we want to achieve equal opportunities for all and, with that, real participation in our society. Studies on Switzerland show that there is still ethnic and cultural discrimination against certain groups of people from all walks of life. This was visible in the fields of education, work, housing, and health, as well as in the public space. That is why participation also means: fighting discrimination and removing structural and individual barriers. That way, we can ensure that everyone has the same opportunities regarding access to goods, services, housing, and jobs.

Portrait von Claudia Flütsch, künstlerische Leiterin des MAXIM Theaters in Zürich

«For the MAXIM Theater, cultural participation is »art for everyone”, meaning openness, letting everyone have a say, and acknowledging art education as a part of education in general and thus something that everyone must have access to.»

Portrait of Claudia Flütsch, creative director at the MAXIM Theater in Zürich

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