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Spain's new government emerges from strong feminist movement

World News
Fri, 08 Jun 2018

Madrid: With nearly twice as many women as men in ministerial posts, Spain's new Socialist government has emerged from a strong feminist movement that permeates all areas of society and which culminated in an unprecedented women's strike earlier this year.

Headed by Pedro Sanchez, who ousted conservative veteran Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote last Friday, the executive has the biggest proportion of women than any other country in Europe.

Of 17 ministers, 11 are women and their portfolios include the key economy, finance, justice, labour, education and health ministries.

Sanchez has also decided to re-establish the equality ministry, created in 2004 by the previous Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was beaten in 2011 elections by Rajoy.

Constitutional law professor Ana Maria Ovejero believes the appointments of women mark an important step, even if Sanchez's government is a minority one with little room for real manoeuvre.

She points out, for instance, that the equality minister Carmen Calvo has also been given the high-profile role of deputy prime minister.

That should give her more leeway to push through policies in the areas of wage equality, women in leadership roles in big companies and the fight against domestic violence.

The Socialist party has also announced that the first bill to be debated in the lower house is one stipulating that employees in the judiciary will be given gender violence awareness training.

Spain is already a pioneer in that domain.

In 2004, under Zapatero's government, Spain passed a landmark law against gender violence that the European Council upheld as an example to follow.

The legislation helped create a telephone hotline, whose number would not appear on callers' phone bills. It also established free legal aid and special courts for victims.

Spain also has a special Gender Violence Observatory.

On the streets, the composition of the new cabinet has drawn mixed reactions.

"It is a little about image, but you can see that the women chosen are competent for the work they will do," said Adriana Asensio, a young clothes vendor in the centre of Madrid.

"I think that Pedro Sanchez has started off quite well" with a government that appears "more inclined towards dialogue" than that of Rajoy, she said in her shop, decorated with packaging adorned with words such as "equality" and "sexual revolution".

But Isabel Redondo, a chemist, felt the cabinet choice was merely a way "to buy votes from the left, and to make people think there are no right-wing feminists."

Law professor Ovejero said the composition of the new executive responded to "all the very important and very intense movements there have been, particularly in Spain, since the mobilisation on March 8."

On that day, which was also International Women's Day, Spain saw an unprecedented strike in defence of women's rights, with close to six million participants, according to unions.

Hundreds of thousands of families, men and women of all ages also took to the streets throughout the country.

Apart from highly publicised cases of gender crimes, one particular trial shook the country and perhaps prompted the high turnout.

Five men accused of gang raping an 18-year-old woman during Pamplona's bull-running festival in 2016 were sentenced to nine years in jail at the end of April.

The sentence sparked fury in Spain because judges only found the men guilty of sexual abuse and not the more serious offence of sexual assault.

The appointment of Carmen Calvo as deputy prime minister also continues something of a tradition in Spanish politics -- the position has regularly been given to a woman since 2004.

The defence ministry has also regularly been headed by women in recent years.

Former Supreme Court judge Margarita Robles is Sanchez's new defence minister.

The post was held by conservative Maria Dolores de Cospedal between 2016 and 2018. And before her, the late Socialist Carme Chacon was defence minister between 2008 and 2011, with the photo of her reviewing the troops while visibly pregnant sent all around the world.

Ana Pastor, a conservative, also holds the third most powerful post in the Spanish state, that of parliamentary speaker.

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