Europe, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

SPAIN: Gender Equality Law Triumphs over Rightwing Opposition

Alicia Fraerman

MADRID, Jan 30 2008 (IPS) - Spain’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling Wednesday backing a gender equality bill, which had been challenged by the rightwing Popular Party (PP), thus clearing the way for the new law to go into effect by Saturday.

The bill was originally introduced by the governing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), and was approved by parliament in March 2007 with the support of all the political parties except the PP, which appealed to the Supreme Court of Justice, and, when that appeal was denied, to the Constitutional Court.

Justice Minister Mariano Fernández Bermejo said the appeal by the PP requesting modification of the law was an attempt at “fraudulent manipulation.”

The main amendment demanded by the PP concerned the article obliging all political parties or neighbourhood associations presenting candidates for elections to draw up their lists with no more than 60 percent of men or of women. This guaranteed that both women and men would always occupy at least 40 percent of the places on the list.

The law also incorporates European Union directives on labour equality, combating discrimination and sexual harassment, and access to public sector employment and to social security benefits. In addition, companies employing over 250 people will now have to negotiate equality plans with their employees, and their boards of directors will also have to adopt similar plans.

PP leaders abstained from commenting on the Constitutional Court verdict, with the exception of PP member and president of the Madrid local government, Esperanza Aguirre, who said she does not agree with the Court’s decision, but will abide by it.

“If he had any pride, he would resign his post,” because of the failure of the appeal, said Fernández Bermejo referring to PP lawmaker Ignacio Astarloa, who organised the party’s opposition to the Equality Law.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, leader of the PSOE, said that the appeal by the PP was not against the Equality Law, but against women’s right to equality. He added that the PP is becoming “more reactionary and conservative every day.”

Only two of the twelve Constitutional Court judges voted for the PP appeal and ten against it. The complete text of the ruling will be published in the Official State Bulletin by Saturday Feb. 1, when it will enter into force, just before registration of lists of candidates for the Mar. 9 general elections begins.

The law was already applied in the municipal elections of May 27, 2007, and had the appeal against it prospered, that would have been the last time it was implemented. In fact, in those elections a PP list made up entirely of 16 women candidates was presented in the Canary Islands and was rejected, for not complying with the law.

On the left, the annulment of the PP list was viewed positively, as the law establishes that neither women nor men can be discriminated against. The PP, on the other hand, complained that this clearly restricted the freedom of action of the parties and denied ideological freedom and political pluralism, according to the text of the appeal.

But the PP went further, saying that if it was acceptable to oblige parties to reflect the female half of society in the candidates presented, other categories could claim the same right of proportional representation, including the elderly, the young or the disabled.

The PSOE’s Secretary for Equality, Maribel Montaño, said that the Constitutional Court decision “places the PP in the ideological corner it has always occupied: the most retrograde, reactionary right, to which women’s liberation has always been an eccentricity of the left.”

In her view, “it is clear that the PP resists a more modern and egalitarian Spain, which in spite of them is leaving ‘machismo’ and discrimination rapidly behind.” Montaño also said that the PP is alone in its position, which indicates that after the Mar. 9 elections it will lack support and be unable to compete with the PSOE to form a government.

All the polls indicate that neither the PSOE nor the PP will gain an absolute majority on Mar. 9, so both parties will need support from other forces to form a government.

The present government took shape in the same way, with the votes of the PSOE allied with the United Left (IU) and Catalonian nationalists.

Another law that has given rise to expectations, and which the PP has also appealed, allows marriage between same-sex couples. This law is currently in force, but awaiting the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s announcement was celebrated at the PSOE headquarters in Madrid. The honorary president of the Progressive Women’s Federation, Enriqueta Chicano, the head of the national Institute for Women, Rosa Peris, and Equality Secretary Montaño all made speeches, at a ceremony attended by representatives and members of other social organisations.

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