Women protest during a nationwide women's strike in Lucerne, Switzerland. Picture: Alexandra Wey/Keystone via AP
Women protest during a nationwide women's strike in Lucerne, Switzerland. Picture: Alexandra Wey/Keystone via AP
A woman protests in front of the University Hospitals during a nationwide women's strike in Geneva. Picture: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP
A woman protests in front of the University Hospitals during a nationwide women's strike in Geneva. Picture: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP
Women protest during a nationwide women's strike in Lucerne, Switzerland. Picture: Alexandra Wey/Keystone via AP
Women protest during a nationwide women's strike in Lucerne, Switzerland. Picture: Alexandra Wey/Keystone via AP
A woman protests in front of the University Hospitals during a nationwide women's strike in Geneva, Switzerland. Picture: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP
A woman protests in front of the University Hospitals during a nationwide women's strike in Geneva, Switzerland. Picture: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP
Female teachers protest during a nationwide women's strike in Zurich, Switzerland. Picture: Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
Female teachers protest during a nationwide women's strike in Zurich, Switzerland. Picture: Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
A sticker renaming the Charles Bessieres bridge "Passerelle Nicole Niquille" is pictured during a women's strike in Lausanne. Picture: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
A sticker renaming the Charles Bessieres bridge "Passerelle Nicole Niquille" is pictured during a women's strike in Lausanne. Picture: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
Women protest during a nationwide strike in Lausanne, Switzerland. Picture: Keystone via AP
Women protest during a nationwide strike in Lausanne, Switzerland. Picture: Keystone via AP
People protest with a sit-in on a bridge during a women's strike in Lausanne. Picture: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
People protest with a sit-in on a bridge during a women's strike in Lausanne. Picture: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
People protest on a bridge during a women's strike in Lausanne. Picture: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
People protest on a bridge during a women's strike in Lausanne. Picture: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
People protest on a bridge during a women's strike in Lausanne. Picture: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
People protest on a bridge during a women's strike in Lausanne. Picture: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
Women protest during a nationwide women's strike in Lausanne, Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
Women protest during a nationwide women's strike in Lausanne, Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
People protest during a nationwide women's strike in Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
People protest during a nationwide women's strike in Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
People protest during a nationwide women's strike in Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
People protest during a nationwide women's strike in Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
People protest during a nationwide women's strike in Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
People protest during a nationwide women's strike in Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP

Geneva - Thousands of women downed tools and took to the streets across Switzerland on Friday to strike for equal pay and against various forms of gender discrimination.

Protests started before dawn as women formed motorcades, banged pots and pans, and burned their bras, in cities including Geneva and Lausanne, public broadcaster SRF reported.

Female parliamentarians, many of them dressed in the protest colour purple, left the chamber for 15 minutes in the late morning in Bern to show their solidarity with the women's strike.

Swiss women earned an average gross monthly salary of 6,491 Swiss francs (6,533 dollars) in 2016, 18.3 per cent less than men, according to the most recent official statistics.

Switzerland ranks near the bottom when it comes to family-friendly policies, according to a survey of the world's wealthiest countries that was published by the UN Children's Fund this week. Swiss women only get eight weeks of paid maternity leave.

Protests were happening in various towns and cities on Friday, as unions called for mandatory wage comparisons between women and men, as well as shorter weekly working hours to make time for childcare.

The strike movement brought together different groups such as teachers, who stayed away from their classrooms in Basel, and female farmers, who voiced their demands for better pension plans.

A petition for lowering the sales tax for tampons that was signed by more than 11,000 people was handed over to parliament by activists in Bern.

dpa