Spain plans to introduce a cabinet law on gender equality

The Spanish prime minister plans to introduce a gender quota at the highest levels of government through a law requiring each gender to hold at least 40 percent of cabinet posts.

The move, announced by Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, will make Spain one of the first European countries with a legally binding cabinet quota and is part of a broader package of gender equality measures.

“If women represent half of society, then half of the political power and half of the economic power must belong to women,” Sánchez said on Saturday, where he announced that a bill on gender equality would be adopted at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

In Sánchez’s government, 14 of the 23 cabinet members, or 61 percent, are women, including the country’s three deputy prime ministers – Nadia Calviño, Yolanda Díaz and Teresa Ribera – as well as the finance and defense ministers.

Men make up 39 per cent of the current cabinet, just short of the proposed law’s requirement that “each gender make up at least 40 per cent of the total number of posts”, including the prime minister, deputy prime ministers and all ministers.

The law, which must be voted on by Parliament after Cabinet approval, will also require “an equal number of women and men” on political party lists of candidates for national, regional, local and European elections.

The first similar quota in Europe was introduced by Belgium in 1994, which stipulated that the number of candidates of one gender on an electoral list could not exceed two-thirds. Under French law, since 2000, electoral lists must be 50/50 balanced at most levels.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz made a commitment to gender equality in his cabinet when he took office in 2021, but there have been more male than female ministers since January after he replaced Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht with Boris Pistorius.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has extended his predecessor François Hollande’s pledges to have a 50:50 gender balance in his 44-member cabinet, including among junior ministers and secretaries of state, although there is no legal obligation to maintain this.

In Spain’s corporate world, the proposed law requires each gender to hold at least 40 percent of the board seats of all listed companies by July 2024. Similar requirements already exist in other European countries such as France, where there have already been rules for large companies since 2011.

An EU directive passed last year requires all member states to legislate to ensure that by 2026 at least 40 percent of non-executive directorships in publicly traded companies are filled by “members of the underrepresented sex”.

At that time, the EU found that women accounted for around 60 percent of new university graduates in the EU, but only 31.5 percent of company board members.

The announcement was not cheered by left-wing party Unidas Podemos, Sánchez’s coalition partner, who was the driving force behind legislation allowing anyone over 16 to change their legally registered gender.

Ione Belarra, a Podemos member and social rights minister, said the government should focus on people’s “real problems”, such as unaffordable housing costs.

“Feminism isn’t about Ana Patricia Botín and Marta Ortega running a big company,” Belarra said, referring to the wealthy chairs of Santander and Zara-owner Inditex.

Additional reporting by Laura Pitel and Guy Chazan in Berlin, Alice Hancock in Brussels and Sarah White in Paris Spain plans to introduce a cabinet law on gender equality

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