In Spain, Giving Women Credit where Credit is Due

By Beatriz Gonzalez Manchon, Vice President of Global Programs, The MATCH Fund

When I go back home to Spain in a few days, I will find a more progressive, more feminist, more hopeful country.

A lot has happened since I last visited. Yes, former President Mariano Rajoy was ousted last week in the wake of a massive corruption scandal. But even more significantly, Spain’s new Socialist Government sees a record number of women ministers in 11 out of 17 cabinet posts, joining a handful of nations in which at least 50% of ministers are women, including France, Sweden and Canada.

This is exciting on a number of levels: the fact that the Government is 61% female, (the highest proportion of women in the history of the country) and also the fact that women have not just been relegated to “softer” ministerial roles like culture or social affairs, as was the case in the past. Carmen Calvo, a politician of solid feminist credentials, is the new Vice-President, and new women ministers have some of the biggest jobs in this cabinet, including defence, economy, finance and education. This could not be in starker contrast to Rajoy’s male-dominated centre-right cabinet.

But here is what I am most excited about: this change has been possible thanks to the work and tenacity of women’s rights organizations and feminist movements. And they are actually getting credit for it!

In my work with The MATCH Fund, we support women’s rights organizations around the world who raise awareness of women’s human rights, change social attitudes and gender norms, hold governments to account and organize to advance progressive agendas through feminist movement building. We know these feminist movements are crucial in building more democratic, peaceful and just societies, but I don’t think I have ever heard a President highlight their key role and impact so explicitly.

The new Spanish President, Pedro Sanchez, said he saw his cabinet as a “faithful reflection of the feminist movement that had emerged on March 8”, which in his view “marked a before and after” in Spanish society. Of course the feminist movement has been strong in Spain for a long time, but he was referring to the tipping point reached with the ‘feminist strike’ staged by an estimated five million women across the country against wage inequality and gender based violence.

The feminist movement in Spain created other watershed moments this year with unprecedented protests in different cities against the ruling in a high-profile rape case. Five men received nine-year jail sentences for sexual abuse, but were acquitted of full-blown rape in the ‘wolf pack case’. The case has been emblematic of Spain’s #Me Too movement over the past two years, with thousands supporting the victim under the slogan Yo te Creo (I believe you).

Like in so many other places around the world, women’s organizations have worked hard to raise difficult issues. Politicians, the justice sector and broader society have had no choice but to listen.

Against this backdrop, only time will tell how ‘feminist’ the new Government really is and how it will improve the lives of women and disadvantaged sectors. Five million people who need jobs can’t find them. Women earn 30% less than men and make up a disproportionate percentage of those earning less than 1,000 Euros a month. Women continue to bear the burden of care work and endure a double work day outside and inside the home. Last year was the worst on record for violence against women with the highest level of complaints ever recorded (166,620 cases). We know migrant women in precarious employment are at particular risk.

Women’s organizations and movements will be looking for concrete actions on these issues. Symbolic gestures won’t cut it. Women will stay vigilant and mobilize resources to continue to push key agendas and hold the Government’s feet to the fire–as they have done for generations.

I may find a changing Spain when I land next week, but the one thing that won’t change is the courage, creativity and leadership of all the amazing women who participate in this incredible movement.