Spain’s Hidden Backwardness


Spain is now known to be one of the most advanced countries in terms of gender equality in the world. The image of the 2019 protests on International Women’s Day, when over 500,000 people marched in Madrid and Barcelona, will forever be ingrained in our minds. It was a landmark for the strength of the push toward equality, and it is true that progress was made in the recent past. However, it still feels like one step forward and three steps back. 

In 2018, women composed 65% of Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet, and the Spanish congress had a share of 47.7% of women. However, the political blockade that followed decreased that number to 43%. Spain made it to the 8th place in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, going up 21 spots from the last edition. However, women only represent 22% of companies’ boards of directors in the country. The share of female representation on the boards of IBEX rose 21 percentage points, but it remains at 24%. A decree to progressively equalize paternity and maternity leave passed in 2018, but Spanish women dedicate over double the time that a man does to unpaid work (a total of 4 hours and 49 minutes). Furthermore, women’s sharing of the labor market is over 10% below that of men, and the country’s overall earnings gap is 35.7%. In technical careers such as engineering, men predominate by 75%-87%. The well-known “only yes means yes” law altered the penal code to define all non-consensual sex as rape. However, it reduces the maximum sentence if the case has no aggravating circumstances – which has already led to the jail sentence of 15 offenders being cut, four of whom walked out free due to the penalty reduction. 

While conducting research, it’s surprisingly positive to find a headline stating “Spain is now in the world’s top 10 for gender equality,” but it’s profoundly disappointing when one reads the article to find that it is still very far from actual gender parity. Which is the country that holds the 1st position in that ranking, then? In the global gender gap report of 2022, Iceland is #1 – and Spain went down to the 17th position. In the most gender equal country in the world, companies’ boards are mandated by law to include at least 40% of women. Nevertheless, even though Iceland has closed 90% of its gender gaps, that means some still remain. Most importantly, that means that no country in the world has achieved full gender parity. 

Moving away from statistics, one’s experience can perhaps say just as much – if not more. Feeling at the very least uncomfortable, and at most harassed, while walking down the street in Madrid or Barcelona is not an uncommon shared experience. Feeling frightened to take the metro late at night by yourself is a concern that crosses most women’s minds. Which of us hasn’t heard a story about a friend being followed on public transportation or on the street? 

This is all to say that yes, we should celebrate the victories of progress. We should give attention to statistics that show things are getting better, we should celebrate the women who reach positions that were previously occupied by men, and we should praise those who work in male-dominated fields. Thankfully, things are not as they were 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago – the scrutiny over sexist speech and practice of the XXIst century is unmatched. Still, one should not forget that there is still a long way to go. 

Featured image by: Forbes

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