Women in Spain

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Women in Spain
Escola européia - Espanhola.jpg
Portrait of a woman from Spain, 19th century
Gender Inequality Index
Rank 15th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 6 (2010)
Women in parliament 39.7% (2016)
Females over 25 with secondary education 63.3% (2010)
Women in labour force 53.4% (employment rate OECD definition, 2015)[1]
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value 0.7266 (2013)
Rank 30th out of 144

Modern-day Spaniards - the people of Spain - recognize the independence of Spanish women.[3] Throughout the late 20th century, Spain has undergone a transition from the authoritarian conservative dictatorship in Francoist Spain (1939-1975), during which women's rights were severely restricted, to a democratic society where gender equality is a fundamental principle. As such, during the past decades the position of women in Spanish society has greatly improved.

Role in society[edit]

During the Franco era, Spanish social and legal values embraced a code of morality that established stringent standards of sexual conduct for women (but not for men); restricted the opportunities for professional careers for women, but honored their role as wives, and (most importantly) mothers; and prohibited divorce, contraception, and abortion, but permitted prostitution.[4]

After the return of democracy, the change in the status of women was dramatic. One significant indicator was the changing place of women in the work force. In the traditional Spanish world, women rarely entered the job market. By the late 1970s, however, 22 percent of the country's adult women, still somewhat fewer than in Italy and in Ireland, had entered the work force. By 1984 this figure had increased to 33 percent, a level not significantly different from Italy or the Netherlands. Women still made up less than one-third of the total labor force, however, and in some important sectors, such as banking, the figure was closer to one-tenth. A 1977 opinion poll revealed that when asked whether a woman's place was in the home only 22 percent of young people in Spain agreed, compared with 26 percent in Britain, 30 percent in Italy, and 37 percent in France. The principal barrier to women in the work place, however, was not public opinion, but rather such factors as a high unemployment rate and a lack of part-time jobs. In education, women were rapidly achieving parity with men, at least statistically. In 1983, approximately 46 percent of Spain's university enrollment was female, the thirty-first highest percentage in the world, and comparable to most other European countries.[4]

During Franco's years, Spanish law discriminated strongly against married women. Without her husband's approval, referred to as the permiso marital, a wife was prohibited from almost all economic activities, including employment, ownership of property, or even travel away from home. The law also provided for less stringent definitions of such crimes as adultery and desertion for husbands than it did for wives. Significant reforms of this system were begun shortly before Franco's death, and they have continued at a rapid pace since then. The permiso marital was abolished in 1975; laws against adultery were cancelled in 1978; and divorce was legalized in 1981. During the same year, the parts of the civil code that dealt with family finances were also reformed.[4]

During the Franco years, marriages had to be canonical (that is, performed under Roman Catholic law and regulations) if even one of the partners was Catholic, which meant effectively that all marriages in Spain had to be sanctioned by the church. Since the church prohibited divorce, a marriage could be dissolved only through the arduous procedure of annulment, which was available only after a lengthy series of administrative steps and was thus accessible only to the relatively wealthy. These restrictions were probably one of the major reasons for a 1975 survey result showing that 71 percent of Spaniards favored legalizing divorce; however, because the government remained in the hands of conservatives until 1982, progress toward a divorce law was slow and full of conflict. In the summer of 1981, the Congress of Deputies (lower chamber of the Cortes Generales, or Spanish Parliament) finally approved a divorce law with the votes of about thirty Union of the Democratic Center (Union de Centro Democratico or UCD) deputies who defied the instructions of party conservatives. As a consequence, Spain had a divorce law that permitted the termination of a marriage in as little as two years following the legal separation of the partners. Still, it would be an exaggeration to say that the new divorce law opened a floodgate for the termination of marriages. Between the time the law went into effect at the beginning of September 1981, and the end of 1984, only slightly more than 69,000 couples had availed themselves of the option of ending their marriages, and the number declined in both 1983 and 1984. There were already more divorced people than this in Spain in 1981 before the law took effect.[4]

Despite these important gains, observers expected that the gaining of equal rights for women would be a lengthy struggle, waged on many different fronts. It was not until deciding a 1987 case, for example, that Spain's Supreme Court held that a rape victim need not prove that she had fought to defend herself in order to verify the truth of her allegation. Until that important court case, it was generally accepted that a female rape victim, unlike the victims of other crimes, had to show that she had put up "heroic resistance" in order to prove that she had not enticed the rapist or otherwise encouraged him to attack her.[4]

In recent years, the role of women has largely increased in Spain, especially in politics but also in the labor market and other public areas. New laws have officially eliminated all kinds of discrimination, and are even perceived by some as positive discrimination, but a Conservative part of the society is still ingrained in the macho culture. Even so, Spanish women are quickly approaching their European counterparts, and the younger generations perceive machismo as outdated.[5][6][7]

Family life[edit]

As the whole society underwent major transformations, so has family life organization. The liberalization of the political climate has allowed for alternative family formation. In the mid-1990s, cohabitation in Spain was still described as a "marginal" phenomenon, but since the 1990s, cohabitation has increased dramatically;[8] in 2015, 44.4% of births were outside of marriage.[9] The views on traditional family have also changed. In the European Values Study (EVS) of 2008, the percentage of Spanish respondents who agreed with the assertion that "Marriage is an outdated institution" was 31.2%.[10] In 2005, Spain legalized same-sex marriage.

Currently, Spain has one of the lowest birth and fertility rates in the world,[11] up to the point of heavily hampering the population replacement rates. One or two children families are most common, and the age of parents has been increasing. Only immigration can balance such a situation, simultaneously incorporating new values and lifestyles in the Spanish society. As of 2015, the total fertility rate in Spain was 1.49 children/born per woman,[12] which is below the replacement rate.

Violence against women[edit]

After the fall of the Franco regime, Spain has taken many steps to address the issue of violence against women. This included enacting in 2004 the Organic Law 1/2004 of 28 December on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence (Ley Orgánica 1/2004, de 28 de diciembre, de Medidas de Protección Integral contra la Violencia de Género).[13] In 2014, Spain ratified the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the "Istanbul Convention").[14]


  1. ^ http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=LFS_SEXAGE_I_R#
  2. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  3. ^ Spain, everyculture.com
  4. ^ a b c d e Eric Solsten and Sandra W. Meditz (eds.) Social Values and Attitudes, U.S. Library of Congress Country Study on Spain, 1990, from research completed in December 1988.
  5. ^ Moore, Molly (2006-10-07). "After Machismo's Long Reign, Women Gain in Spain". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  6. ^ Catan, Thomas (2006-11-29). "In the dark heart of machismo shines a beacon of sexual equalitry". The Times (Online). Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  7. ^ "Spain Wages War on Machismo Attitudes". Deutsche Welle. 2008-07-13. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  8. ^ http://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol32/5/32-5.pdf
  9. ^ http://www.eleconomista.es/economia/noticias/8021312/12/16/Los-nacimientos-en-Espana-se-desploman-al-nivel-mas-bajo-en-17-anos.html
  10. ^ [1] See: Variable Description - Family - Q 45.
  11. ^ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, United Nations (2007). "World Population Prospects, The 2006 Revision - Highlights" (PDF). United Nations, New York. p. 96. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  12. ^ https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.html
  13. ^ http://www.boe.es/buscar/act.php?id=BOE-A-2004-21760
  14. ^ http://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/210/signatures

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