How a female teacher campaigned for Spain to have a Father’s Day

Today marks Father’s Day in Spain, the day when children all over the country come home with handmade crafts and often enjoy a special meal with their dads. But what are the origins of this day in Spain and why is it celebrated on March 19th?

How a female teacher campaigned for Spain to have a Father's Day
A Barcelona street in 1949. Photo: AFP

But did you know that Spain hasn’t always had a Father’s Day? In fact, the country’s first Día del Padre was held in 1948 and came about thanks to a teacher in the Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas.

The teacher, Manuela Vincenta Ferrero, petitioned for the day to be created after a group of parents at her school requested that children have a day when they bring home a handmade gift for their fathers, as they did for their mothers, on Mother’s Day.

So, Ferrero decided to write an article in the education newspaper – the Periódico Magisterio to encourage other schools to adopt the same practice.

Father’s Day and the Festival of San José

Ferrero declared that Father’s Day should be March 19th, to coincide with the festival of San José. 

San José or Saint Joseph was the Virgin Mary’s husband and father figure to Jesus, representing the values of being a good husband and a good father. He is also the patron saint of the Universal Church, immigrants, craftspeople, workers and engineers.

Father’s Day roles out across the country

After the day was adopted in schools, it became more popular when the chain of well-known department stores Galerías Preciados, a rival to the much-loved El Corte Inglés, decided to promote the day in their stores.  

The department store wanted to hire Ferrero herself to encourage the purchase of gifts designed for fathers. She rejected the proposal however and instead suggested that the stores hire young people from her school to promote the gifts instead.

Father’s Day in Spain today

Today, Father’s Day is still celebrated in Spain on March 19th. Children still make handmade gifts at school to bring home and shops have continued to add to the tradition, making it bigger and more popular by selling specialised Father’s Day gifts and cards.

It is also traditional on this day to eat crema de San José, which is like the Catalan dessert, crema Catalana, a sweet custard topped with a layer of caramelised burnt sugar and often flavoured with orange peel and cinnamon. 

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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.