OPINION: Why it's more important than ever to stand up for women’s rights in Spain

Fiona Govan
Fiona Govan - [email protected]
OPINION: Why it's more important than ever to stand up for women’s rights in Spain
Crowds gather in Puerta del Sol, Madrid during last year's demonstration on Women's Day. Photo: AFP

It’s true that Spain has come a long way in just a generation, but not far enough and The Local's Fiona Govan explains why it's more important than ever to support the fight for women's rights in Spain.


When Franco died in 1975 the role of a Spanish woman was still firmly in the home and she had to request permission from her father or her husband to get a job, open a bank account, own property or even travel away from home.

Nowadays, a woman's role in modern Spain is far removed from that of her grandmother's 40 years ago. 

But there's still much to be done and here's why:

Political pressure

Spain may not yet have had a female prime minister but there is no shortage of powerful women in politics.  

Spain’s two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, have both been run by female mayors for the last four years and more than half of Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet was comprised of women – each one impressively qualified for their role.

But not a single one of the main political parties presenting candidates at the next general election on April 28th is led by a woman.

And what’s more worrying is the entrance on the political scene of a far-right party that actively campaigns to curb hard-won rights for women.

Vox, which won 12 seats in Andalucia’s regional government and according to opinion polls, is set to win seats in the national parliament in April and could play a decisive role in securing a coalition of right-wing parties to govern.

The party opposes a law against gender violence that it feels is "ideological" and "discriminatory" towards men, it wants the national health service to cease paying for abortions and calls for an end to “subsidised radical feminist associations”.

“What they want is a sudden stop in the advance of women's rights. We will not take a step backwards,” veteran Spanish feminist Ana Maria Perez del Campo said recently.

READ MORE: Feminism is the buzzword in Spain's electoral campaign


What’s even worse is the presence on city streets this week of a bus emblazoned with an image of a badly made up Hitler – rouge circles, pink lips and false eyelashes - in a campaign against “Feminazis” by ultra Catholic group HazteOir. 

This backlash against feminism – and attempts to brand it as an extremist view -  shows it’s more important than ever for every single woman – and those men that believe in equality – to stand up and say “Si, Yo Soy Feminista”.

Inequality in the workplace

 Photo: World Bank Collection / Flickr

The proportion of women in managerial positions in Spain is only 36 percent and just under 25 percent of board members in the largest publically listed companies in 2018 were women, according to the latest Eurostat data.

The ratio of women to men drops even further as careers progress.  The percentage of women who hold positions as senior executives drops to just 14 percent in Spain.  

All three figures are below the EU average.

Spain's female executives earn 15.1 percent less than their male counterparts, although this is just below the EU average salary gap of 16 percent according to the latest Eurostat data from 2017.

The percentage of women in managerial positions is 37 percent and by far the majority of Spain's top earners are men. Although men represent 54 percent of all salary earners, they occupy the top jobs, with data from Spain's finance ministry showing that 82 percent of positions where salaries are more than ten times the minimum wage are held by men.

A new study also reveals that even when they are equally qualified, women are 30 percent less likely to be hired over men.

And that figure grows to 36 percent if the women have children, whereas it makes no difference whether the men are fathers or not. The disparity in hiring was revealed this week in a study by Observatorio Social de la Caixa”

Inequality in the home


Photo: AndreyPopov/Depositphotos

Were there ever any doubts that the burden of running a home and raising a family falls firmly on the woman's shoulders, even if she is in full time work?

A study published on Spain's National Statistics Institute (INE) reveals that women spend almost twice as much time toiling in unpaid work than their male partners - an average of 26.5 hours a week compared to just 14 hours for men.

This unpaid work includes raising children, cooking and cleaning, household chores and caring for relatives.

And it doesn’t make much difference who the main bread winner is or who works longer hours.

While women who work only part time do an average of 29.6 hours of unpaid work (compared to 13.9 hours for men), those women in full time work scarcely do less in the home, 25.2 hours (compared to a steady 13.9 for men).

READ MORE: Gender gap: Spanish women do twice as much unpaid work as men

Violence against women

A doll burns during a protest against gender violence in Seville. Photo: AFP


In the first six weeks of 2019, nine women were murdered by their partners or ex-partners in crimes collectively known in Spanish as “crimines de violencia de género”, according to data from Spain’s Equality Ministry.

During 2018, a total of 47 murders were committed in that category and a shocking 984 women have been murdered in such circumstances since records began in 2003.

And that’s just the murders.

A total of 158,217 women in Spain were subjected to violence by men in 2017, according to figures from Spain's leading judicial body (CGPJ). And a total of 33.146 men received prison sentences in Spain that year alone for crimes relating to physical and verbal abuse against women. 

A study in 2015 revealed that 30 percent of young Spanish men think that when a woman is assaulted by her husband "she must have done something to provoke it".

The Spanish Parliament has endorsed more than 200 measures to address gender violence since the case of Ana Orantes in 1997, a 60-year-old who was beaten, thrown over a balcony and then burned to death by her ex-husband after repeatedly complaining to authorities about his violent behaviour.

And huge efforts have been made to make sure woman know where to get the help they need, how to report violence against them and how to keep them safe but, as the figures show, more needs to be done.

La Manada and Spain’s #MeToo movement

Women demonstrate against the lenient sentence of the five men who called themselves La Manada. Photo: AFP

The huge outrage generated by what has become known as La Manada – The wolfpack – case has thrown a spotlight on how the Spanish judicial system works in favour of the perpetrators of sex attacks and doesn’t always serve to protect the victims.

OPINION Fighting the 'Wolf Pack': What next for Spanish women?

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest after a group of five men walked free from court despite a conviction for sexual abuse of a teenager during San Fermin Festivities in Pamplona in 2016.

The men were accused of gang raping an 18 year-old during the running of the bulls fiesta. They videoed it on their smartphones and bragged about it within their WhatsApp group, calling themselves "The Pack". 

All five were convicted of sexual abuse but were acquitted of the more serious crime of sexual assault, which includes rape, as the court did not consider that the victim had been subjected to intimidation or violence, sparking nationwide protests to demand that the law be changed. 

The victim of the attack spoke out and urged fellow victims of sexual attacks not to remain silent sparking Spain’s version of #MeToo with #Cuéntalo.

Wear purple and join a march

So it's more important than ever to continue to highlight inequality where you see it and show solidarity for those women who still feel repressed in the workplace or at home, even if you don't. 

Last year more than five million people across Spain participated in a demonstration - lots of men who consider themselves feminists also took part - and this year's Women's Day promises to be even bigger,

Expect crowds, slogan chanting, inventive posters held in defiant fists. There'll be drumming, music and a carnival atmosphere as people of all ages, from grandparents to toddlers hoisted on shoulders above the crowds, come together in a sea of purple to show that modern Spain means equal opportunities, whatever gender you are.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Women's Day action in Spain

Crowds fill the streets outside the Banco d'España on March 8th. Photo:AFP



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also