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Spain gov’t parties vie for feminist flag before Women’s Day

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spain’s government presented Tuesday a plan to mandate gender quotas in elected government bodies and companies’ executive boards, on the eve of International Women’s Day when thousands will take to the streets of Madrid and other cities for women’s rights.

But the buildup to the annual women’s march comes amid a political spat inside Spain’s ruling coalition over which of the two left-wing parties best represents the feminist cause in an election year where Spain’s Right will try to reclaim power.

The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the anti-austerity United We Can are sparring over one of their government’s banner causes: a sexual violence law proposed by the latter party that, while increasing support and resources for victims, has inadvertently led to the reduction of sentences of over 700 offenders since taking effect in October.

The Sexual Liberty Law in question was supposed to be one of the government’s greatest achievements. Instead it has turned into a political liability that is set to pit the two partners against one another in Parliament.

United We Can has said that it will vote against the Socialists’ proposal aimed to prevent future reductions of sentences later on Tuesday. The proposal will likely get the go-ahead to be considered with the votes of right-wing opposition parties.

The Socialists say that the law is flawed and want to make technical tweaks to restore higher minimum sentences. For example, they want rape convictions to be punished by at least six years behind bars, instead of the four established under the new law.

But Equality Minister Irene Montero of United We Can, who championed the law, insists that the problem is the endemic sexism of some judges. She says that the Socialists’ reform would betray the essence of the law, which made lack of consent by the victim the key to determining if there was a sex crime, by reintroducing the importance given to whether force was used by the alleged aggressor.

Both parties say that there will be still time to reach a deal after the Socialists’ proposal starts its way through the legislature, and that the difference over Tuesday’s vote won’t foreshadow a collapse of the coalition. The government, which has 14 women to 9 men on its Cabinet, has passed a series of progressive and feminist laws, including laws on abortion, menstrual leave, improved maternity and paternity leave, and improved working conditions for caregivers, who are mostly women.

But some leading feminists are concerned that the outbreak of public bickering over the feminist cause between the government partners, which are eyeing local elections in May and a general ballot later this year, can overshadow or even tarnish Wednesday’s rally.

“What is generating the noise is their need to make political gains and the fact that many parties want to be included under the feminist umbrella,” Marisa Soleto, director of the feminist organization Fundación Mujeres, told The Associated Press. “Those of us who have spent many years in the feminist movement are observing this a bit bewildered.”

Sotelo said the feminist movement, both in Spain and internationally, has always lived with intense internal debate. But she said that questions over the sexual liberty law are being “distorted” by the political jockeying ahead of elections, since actually among feminist groups the issues of how to deal with prostitution or the Spanish government’s transgender rights law that allows teenagers as young as 16 to change their gender freely are much more divisive.

The Parity Law proposed on Tuesday, which is sponsored by the Socialists, will set out to require that women, or men, make up at least 40% of the boards of directors of listed companies and private companies with more than 250 workers and 50 million euros in business. The same will also apply to Spain’s Cabinet. The bill also proposes to oblige political parties to have equality in their electoral lists, with names of men and women coming one after the other.

The initiative, however, has also split the coalition.

While Economy Minster Nadia Calviño, a Socialist, said the new law would break the highest of Spain’s glass ceilings, United We Can argues it only favors the political and business elite and not the working-class woman.

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