The day that women took over Spanish Congress

The parliament that emerged from the recent election reflects the highest gender parity in the entire EU. Some of the female deputies who were sworn in yesterday discuss what this means for Spain

Elsa García de Blas
Meritxell Batet, the new speaker of Congress.
Meritxell Batet, the new speaker of Congress.Eduardo Parra (Europa Press)

When Spanish deputy Clara Campoamor demanded women’s right to vote in a famous speech made on October 1, 1931, she was just one of three female members of Congress.

Eighty-eight years after women’s suffrage was enacted in Spain, the new Congress that convened on Tuesday has the highest number of female deputies in the country’s history: 166, representing 47.4% of seats. This makes Spanish parliament the EU leader in gender parity, and the fifth in the world according to figures from UN Women.

The presence of women in politics paves the way for today’s little girls to believe that they can be anything they want to be

Cuca Gamarra, PP deputy

Spain’s leap to the global forefront of female leadership is also reflected in the fact that a woman, Meritxell Batet, is the new speaker of the lower house, and that she is taking over from another woman, Ana Pastor.

This new reality was reflected in the opening remarks by Batet, who spoke of the need to advance toward “a more feminist Spain” and who addressed the “señoras y señores diputados,” putting the women first instead of using the more traditional formula of “señores y señoras.

The Socialist Party (PSOE) has contributed the largest number of female lawmakers: 64 deputies, representing 52% of the Socialist seats. There are also more women than men in the Popular Party (PP)’s congressional group: 34, or 51.5% of its own deputies. They are followed by Ciudadanos (Citizens) with 21 female lawmakers, although these account for just 36.8% of all Ciudadanos deputies. And Unidas Podemos brings 20, representing 48% of its own deputies.

For many of these women, Tuesday was the first time that they had set foot in the hallways of Congress. They represented several generations and varying degrees of experience in politics. Presiding over the scene was a bust of Clara Campoamor.

The girls in this country need female role models in all walks of life

Inés Arrimadas, Ciudadanos deputy

These new deputies underscored the importance of gender equality in Congress. “The girls in this country need female role models in all walks of life. We need to keep increasing the number of female leaders and eliminating the barriers that continue to halt the careers of many women,” said Inés Arrimadas, 37, a deputy for Ciudadanos who will likely be its congressional spokesperson.

“This is good news and it should not go unnoticed,” added Cuca Gamarra, 44, of the PP. “The presence of women in politics paves the way for today’s little girls to believe that they can be anything they want to.”

“Gender parity is a social achievement that’s been fomented by the PSOE in Spain,” said Beatriz Corredor, 50, a former Socialist minister who has earned a seat in the new parliament.

But for the younger deputies, such as the 25-year-old María Teresa Pérez of Unidas Podemos, the increased female presence in Congress is a result of “the influence of feminism and March 8,” alluding to the large feminist demonstrations staged in recent years in Spain on International Women’s Day.

But Pérez thinks this is not enough. “It’s good to break through glass ceilings, but it is also necessary to enact feminist policies and de-patriarchalize politics, which means engaging in dialogue based on greater empathy, less testosterone and less over-acting.”

In contrast, a female deputy for the far-right Vox party, Cristina Esteban, 43, said she did not attach so much importance to the issue of gender parity in Congress: “I see it as neither a good thing nor a bad thing.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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