[Marxism] Spain's New Leader Appoints 8 Women to Cabinet

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue May 25 21:03:10 MDT 2004

Spain's New Leader Appoints 8 Women to Cabinet

By Jerome Socolovsky - WeNews correspondent

MADRID(WOMENSENEWS)--Spain's new prime minister is
internationally best known for his decision last month to
withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, which drew the ire of the
Bush administration.

But domestically, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
is attracting attention for making female empowerment a top

Newsstands abound with pictures of Zapatero surrounded by
colorfully dressed female ministers and Spanish media have
made much of the cultural and visual shift from previous
governments of mostly gray-suited men.

Women's groups and the general public are welcoming
Zapatero's promise to pass a broad legislative package to
combat domestic violence. The issue has risen to the
forefront in Spain, where newspapers now keep almost daily
tallies of the number of women killed or attacked by abusive
partners. Political leaders across the spectrum have called
for measures to combat the violence.

A survey taken by the State Institute of Statistics the week
after the mid-March election found that 93 percent of
respondents believed more severe laws were necessary to
combat domestic violence. After terrorism, unemployment and
crime, abuse against women was ranked as one of the country's
most serious problems.

Zapatero also wants to streamline divorce proceedings and
legalize abortion, illegal here except in cases of rape and
severe birth defects. Although the abortion law is rarely
enforced, it is supported by the influential Roman Catholic
Church, which also opposes the government's plan to legalize
gay and lesbian marriage.

Two Milestones in First Week

During his first week in office, following the April 17
inauguration, the new Spanish government made history twice.

First was the inauguration ceremony, when half of the 16
ministers sworn in as members of Zapatero's cabinet were
women. Then, for a few hours, a woman led the country. Maria
Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, the vice premier, was the acting
prime minister of Spain while Zapatero paid a brief visit to
Morocco several days after the inauguration.

The milestones show how far Spain has come in the 29 years
since the end of the arch-conservative dictatorship of
General Francisco Franco, when a man had a legal right to
"discipline" his wife by beating her and holding hands in
public was prohibited.

Following Sweden's Footsteps

"I am proud that Spain is now on par with Sweden, in terms of
parity in government," Fernandez de la Vega said several days
after she ended her stint as acting head of government.

In 1994, Sweden's ruling Social Democratic Party pioneered a
policy of equal representation in government. Intended to
serve as a model for the rest of society, the policy is known
as "Varannan Damernas" for a Swedish ballroom tradition that
alternates the job of partner-choosing between men and women.

And now the Spanish government wants to fall into step with
Sweden, which still has a government evenly split 11-to-11
between men and women.

Finland had a gender-equal government in 2004, but now there
are 10 men and eight women in power. In parliament, Sweden
and other Nordic countries are world leaders in terms of
gender parity, with women constituting an average of 39.7
percent of lawmakers. Women make up 16.4 percent of lawmakers
in the rest of Europe and 14.3 percent in the United States,
according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

"We have a long way to go," the Spanish vice premier said.
"But to give normality to positions that until now were
prohibited to women is a significant advance."

Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega and the other female
ministers are serving in Spain's fifth government since the
country's transition to democracy in the late 1970s. They
took office on April 18, after the Spanish Socialist Workers'
Party scored a stunning upset over the right-wing Popular
Party government of Jose Maria Aznar, the former prime
minister. The election was held three days after terrorists
blew up commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, killing nearly
200 people.

Strong Leadership Qualifications

Tina Alarcon, president of the Centro de Asistencia a
Victimas de Agresiones Sexuales (Center for Assistance to
Victims of Sexual Aggression), headquartered in Madrid, is
one of many feminist leaders hailing the new government's
emphasis on equality. "We have been fighting for this for
years," she said and noted that the female ministers' strong
records easily qualify them for their posts.

Infrastructure Minister Magdalena Alvarez, a former tax
inspector, fought for funding for the government in the
southern region of Andalusia. Culture Minister Carmen Calvo
was key to the success of Malaga's Picasso Museum while she
was Andalusian culture secretary. And Health Minister Elena
Salgado Mendez is a renowned economist who will be key to the
government's plan to legalize abortion on demand during the
first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.

"We didn't want them to appoint just any women," Alarcon
said. "We wanted women who think like feminists and who use
their posts to fight for equality and all the aspirations
that we Spanish women have."

Alarcon was one of about a dozen feminist leaders invited to
a meeting with Vice President Fernandez de la Vega and Social
Affairs Minister Jesus Caldera, whose ministry will formally
be in charge of women's issues.

Ana Maria Perez del Campo, the nation's preeminent feminist,
of the Federation of Separated and Divorced Women and a
campaigner for equal rights since the Franco dictatorship,
also attended the meeting and said she had high hopes for
"the victory of our law."

Focus on Gender-Violence Law

During the last government's term, women's groups drew up the
proposed Comprehensive Law against Gender Violence, only to
be rejected in the Spanish parliament by Aznar's Popular

But after a record year for fatalities as a result of
domestic violence, the Popular Party has now come out in
support of the new law, making its adoption virtually certain
when the new parliament takes it up.

According to the Federation of Separated and Divorced Women's
Associations, 97 women died in 2003 at the hands of abusive
husbands or boyfriends or former male companions. It was the
highest figure since it began keeping annual tallies in 1999.

In total, 10,720 complaints of gender violence were lodged
last year, according to Alarcon, the organization that is
helping to bring 8,000 cases, including some from previous
years, to court. So far, the organization has had a 30-
percent conviction rate.

Alarcon said one of the most important accomplishments of the
Comprehensive Law will be the merging of civil and criminal
proceedings related to abuse of spouses and children.

"It's something so simple as linking the case of a father who
requests visitation rights in a divorce proceeding, to a
criminal case in which he is accused of sexually abusing a

The comprehensive law also envisions educational and
awareness programs, including an obligatory class on gender
equality for schoolchildren.

The new government has also said it wants to expand the
numbers of police officers dedicated to combating domestic

[Jerome Socolovsky is a journalist based in Madrid.]

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