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Spain plans to introduce cabinet gender equality law

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Spain’s prime minister plans to bring in a gender quota at the highest levels of government through a law requiring that each sex holds at least 40 per cent of cabinet roles.

The move announced by Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez will make Spain one of the first European countries with a legally binding cabinet quota and forms 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 draft gender equality law would be approved at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Within Sánchez’s government, 14 of the 23 cabinet members, or 61 per cent, are women, including the country’s three deputy prime ministers — Nadia Calviño, Yolanda Díaz and Teresa Ribera — as well as the finance and defence ministers.

Men make up 39 per cent of the current cabinet, which falls just short of the proposed law’s requirement that “each sex accounts for 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 the candidate lists of political parties for national, regional, municipal 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, electoral lists at most levels have had to be 50:50 balanced since 2000.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz committed to having gender equality in his cabinet when he took office in 2021, but since January there have been more male than female ministers after he replaced defence minister Christine Lambrecht with Boris Pistorius.

In France, president Emmanuel Macron has extended pledges by his predecessor François Hollande to have a 50:50 gender balance in his 44-strong cabinet, including among junior ministers and secretaries of state, although there is no legal requirement to maintain it.

In Spain’s corporate world, the proposed law will require that each sex occupies at least 40 per cent of board seats at all listed companies by July 2024. Similar requirements already exist in other European countries such as France, where rules have been in place for large companies since 2011.

An EU directive approved last year requires that all member states pass laws to ensure that least 40 per cent of non-executive director positions at listed companies are held by “members of the under-represented sex” by 2026.

At the time, the EU noted that women accounted for around 60 per cent of new university graduates in the EU but only 31.5 per cent of corporate board members.

The announcement was not cheered by leftwing party Unidas Podemos, Sánchez’s coalition partner, which has been 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 is not about Ana Patricia Botín and Marta Ortega running a large company,” said Belarra, 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

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