POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 12th May 2008

Reforming the Constitution

The government announced last week that it will be consulting the political parties about certain constitutional reforms it has in mind. The reform making the monarch’s first born the heir, regardless of gender, should get through Parliament without a hitch. It will not apply to the current heir, Crown Prince Felipe. It simply means that his daughter, Leonor, will one day be Queen, as everyone has automatically assumed since the day she was born. Successive governments have been talking about this particular constitutional change for the last 20 years or so but now it looks as if it will become a reality. The nationalists and the Left – Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) and those on the extreme left of the Socialist Party – will no doubt vote against this reform because they want to abolish the monarchy altogether and bring in the Third Republic, but a majority of Socialists and the Partido Popular will ensure its passage through Parliament. And about time too. Ironically, the land that coined the word “macho” is now in the vanguard when it comes to the fight for gender equality – except when it comes to the monarch’s gender. But that’s going to change and little Leonor – who already acts like a future Queen – can sleep peacefully at night, or at least her parents can. It’s all a far cry from the 1960s, when women were burning their bras all over the western world – but bikinis were banned in Spain until 1968, when Franco finally changed the law to stop the Guardia Civil from arresting all those shameless foreign tourists. Being very old fashioned, the dictator obviously didn’t believe that women had the right to show so much flesh in public, but it was bad for the tourist business. And what he would have made of Sr Zapatero’s “pink Cabinet” we’ll never know. But like Italy’s Berlusconi, he probably would say that the PM is asking for trouble. In fact, the women ministers haven’t rocked the boat so far, although the most headline-grabbing one, heavily pregnant Defence Minister Carme Chacon, nearly put her foot in it less than two weeks after taking over. She’d won everyone’s admiration by making the long trip to Afghanistan to visit the troops there. However, when she got back, she tried to stop the military from reading sports papers and girlie magazines online which got them up in arms, so to speak, and she backed down. But nobody will remember that when she gives birth to a bouncing baby boy in about a month’s time. The woman minister with what will probably prove to be the hardest portfolio is the Minister for Equality herself, Bibiana Aído, who at 31 is the country’s youngest ever minister. One of her biggest problems will be getting equal pay for equal work – women still earn about 30% less than men. They also occupy less than 5% of the places on the boards of major companies. It’s a different scene on the political front, where 40% of the political candidates in elections must be women. To help Srta Aído, this 40% threshold will be progressively applied to the boards of companies that bid for government contracts, in the hope that other companies will follow suit. Her other big problem is domestic violence, which is pretty bad here, although not as bad as in other countries. For example, surveys show that, proportionally, more women die as a result of domestic violence in the UK and Germany than in Spain. In fact, a worldwide survey last year rated Spain at No 16 in the domestic violence stakes. Even so, the figures are chilling. More than 70 women were killed by their husbands, boyfriends or ex-partners last year, and the toll so far this year is fast approaching 30. Sra Aído will be fighting an uphill battle to implement new laws that protect women at risk in a legal situation described by Justice Minister Mariano Fernández Bermejo as “slow” but not “chaotic”, which is the word used by more realistic observers. Despite the country’s legendary “machismo”, most Spanish men seem to accept the women ministers. As one man told reporters: “The incompetence of some of our ministers is already well-known and has nothing to do with their gender.” There are those who sneer at them, like a columnist for the conservative newspaper ABC, who called Sr Zapatero’s cabinet his “battalion of seamstresses”, while other Spaniards – both male and female – fear the whole gender thing is just window-dressing, arguing that society will only be changed through the education system which, as it stands right now, is pretty deficient. The other major reforms concern the regions’ political and financial powers, the Election Law and relations between the State and the Catholic Church. All are very complex problems which the government will be hard put to solve in a mere four years, given the passions they arouse. More on them next week.

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