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EDUCATION

How Barcelona’s ‘bike bus’ scheme for schoolkids is getting noticed worldwide

In a chic Barcelona neighbourhood, a convoy of kid cyclists glides down a car-free street as part of the city's "bicibus" scheme to encourage green transport and physical exercise.

How Barcelona's 'bike bus' scheme for schoolkids is getting noticed worldwide
Around 140 children use the two "bicibus" routes that currently operate in the Eixample neighbourhood of Barcelona. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

The children take to the streets every Friday in the city’s Eixample neighbourhood, picking up other kids along the circuit and dropping them off at their schools, as a traditional bus route would work.

The roads are closed to traffic to make sure the young riders are safe, and parents often join in, sometimes carrying younger children in bike seats.

The programme, which was rolled out in September, has been so popular that other neighbourhoods are hoping to replicate it — and interest has been piqued internationally as well.

“In several months, there will be other routes in other neighbourhoods,” said Genis Domínguez, 40, whose children go to school in Eixample, home to wide avenues and stylish shops.

Barcelona already boasts a network of bicycle lanes, but they are not necessarily safe for kids, Domínguez said. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

“They are very close to the streets where cars go too fast and motorcycles get too close,” he told AFP.

Municipal police are available to escort the children, with officers on bicycles or motorcycles travelling in the front, back or next to the group.

Barcelona’s city hall said the goal of the scheme is to “promote a change toward a more sustainable and active mobility”.

Around 140 children use the two “bicibus” routes that currently operate in Eixample, but parents from 35 schools across Barcelona took part in a recent meeting to learn how to set them up in their neighbourhoods, said Dominguez.

Similar projects already exist in other cities such as Dublin, but a viral video of Barcelona’s “bicibus” has sparked interest in the scheme around the world, including from Buenos Aires and San Francisco.

So far, it’s proven popular among the pint-sized participants.

“Parents tell us that Friday is the day when they have the least difficulty to wake up their children,” said Domínguez.

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WOMEN'S RIGHTS

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.




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