Women in Spain
Portrait of a woman from Spain, 19th century
General Statistics
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)6 (2010)
Women in parliament41.2% (2018)
Women over 25 with secondary education63.3% (2010)
Women in labour force58.8% (employment rate
OECD definition, 2019)[1]
Gender Inequality Index[2]
Value0.057 (2021)
Rank14th out of 191
Global Gender Gap Index[3]
Value0.788 (2022)
Rank17th out of 146

The status of women in Spain has evolved from the country's earliest history, culture, and social norms. Throughout the late 20th century, Spain has undergone a transition from 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. Women in the broader Spanish population outnumber men by 900,000, totaling an estimated group of 24 million (as of July 2017).[4] Until the establishing of separation of church and state in 1978, the Catholic Church in Spain has played a major role with regard to official views on women's role in society.

Role in society

Main article: Spanish society after the democratic transition

During the Francoist era, Spanish social values codified a stance of morality that established rigid standards female sexuality by restricting employment opportunities and prohibiting divorce, contraception, and abortion.[5] The return of democracy saw to wide-sweeping changes in the status of women.[5] In the traditional Spanish world, women rarely entered or sustained careers in the national labor market.[5] By the late 1970s, 22% of the country's adult women, still somewhat fewer than in Italy and in Ireland, had entered the work force.[5] By 1984 this figure had increased to 33%, a level not significantly different from Italy or the Netherlands.[5] Women still made up less than one-third of the total labor force, and in some prominent sectors, such as banking, the figure was closer to one-tenth.[5] A 1977 opinion poll revealed that when asked whether a woman's place was in the home only 22% of young people in Spain agreed, compared with 26% in Britain, 30% in Italy, and 37% in France.[5] The principal barrier to women in the work place was not social pressure, but rather factors such as a high unemployment rate and a lack of part-time jobs.[5] Women were achieving educational parity with men during the late 1970s.[5] In 1983, approximately 46% of Spain's university enrollment was female, the 31st-highest percentage in the world, and comparable to most other European countries.[5]

At the height of the Francoist era, Spanish law and legislation discriminated against women who were married.[5] Without her husband's approval (referred to as permiso marital), a wife was prohibited from employment and property ownership.[5] The law also provided for less stringent definitions of such crimes as adultery and desertion for husbands than it did for wives.[5] During Franco's era, although women's role was defined as that of a homemaker who had to largely avoid the public sphere in order to take care of the children, the legal rights over the children belonged to the father; until 1970 the husband could give a family's child to adoption without the consent of his wife.[6] Significant reforms of this system were begun shortly before Franco's death, and they have continued at a rapid pace since then.[5] The permiso marital was abolished in 1975; laws against adultery were cancelled in 1978; and divorce was legalized in 1981.[5] That year, the parts of the civil code that dealt with family finances were also reformed.[5]

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.[5]

The Allegory of the Spanish Republic, displaying a woman donning republican paraphernalia such as the Phrygian cap.

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.[5]

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.[7][8][9]

Women in Spain are paid 13% less in public sectors and 19% less in private sectors.[10] Women are portrayed in media as balanced in power with men, but in traditional roles with women as homemakers and mothers and submissive to men.[11][12]

Family life

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;[13] in 2015, 44.4% of births were outside of marriage.[14] 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%.[15] In 2005, Spain legalized same-sex marriage.

Currently, Spain has one of the lowest birth and fertility rates in the world,[16] 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,[17] which is below the replacement rate.

Spain's policy on parental leave offers a 16 weeks paid leave for each parent [18] which is non-transferable, as well as additional unpaid leave (excedencia por cuidado de hijo menor de 3 años).[19] The policy is controversial, because the equal non-transferable paid leave makes Spain the country with one of the shortest paid leaves for mothers, but one of the longest paid leaves for fathers, in Europe.[20] Supporters argue that this promotes gender equality and equal sharing of responsibilities, while opponents argue that this does not account for biological differences related to childbirth such as breastfeeding, as well as social realities.[20]

Violence against women

Main article: List of incidents of violence against women in Spain

Mural against violence against women in Pego (Valencian Community, Spain)

Violence against women was common and ignored during the Franco era. Before 1963, husbands and fathers who killed their wives and daughters whom they discovered committing adultery or premarital sex incurred only the symbolic punishment of destierro.[21] Adultery was decriminalized in 1978, when the law on adultery in Spain, which discriminated against women, was repealed.[22][23] In 1985, the law ended the practice in regard to minor girls abusively taken into state custody, as it no longer allowed minors to be placed under the control of the state for their own protection.[24]

After the fall of the Franco regime, Spain has taken many steps to address the issue of violence against women. The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that sex within marriage must be consensual and that sexuality in marriage must be understood in light of the principle of the freedom to make one's own decisions with respect to sexual activity; in doing so it upheld the conviction of a man who had been found guilty of raping his wife by a lower court.[25] 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) was enacted.[26]

Many protests rose around Spain, due to the verdict in 2018 regarding an 18-year-old woman who was assaulted at a bull-running festival in Pamplona. She was gang-raped by five men. The men recorded the assault on her phone, which one of the men, a military police officer, stole. The men referred to themselves as the "manada", a word referring to a pack of wolves. The word has been claimed by feminists and women's rights groups as a term to explain one of the aspects of machismo in Hispanic and Latino communities. The men were convicted of assault and were given prison sentences of nine years, rather than being prosecuted of rape, which would have resulted in 23 years in prison. In addition, they had to pay her 50,000 euros (UD$60,600). The military police officer had to pay an extra 900 euros to replace her cellphone. Many people, particularly women's rights activists and feminists believed they should have been convicted of rape.[27][28][29]

During Franco's Spain, child sexual abuse was largely ignored, with the country having very lax laws; the age of consent in Spain was only 12. The age of consent was raised to 13 in 1999, and to 16 in 2015 (with a close in age exemption for partners who are "close in age and level of development or maturity"); the marriageable age was also raised from 14 to 16.[30]

Reproductive rights

Feminist pro-choice manifestations in Madrid in 2014

In Spain, contraception was banned in January 1941. The natalist law for "the protection of natality, against abortion and contraceptionist propaganda" remained valid until 1978, while methods such as IUD and sterilization remained illegal until 1980. However, the pill was available on prescription for medical reasons from 1964. During the Franco era, in practice, middle-class urban women could often access modern contraceptive methods.[31]

Abortion in Spain is legal upon request up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, and at later stages for serious risk to the health of the woman or fetal defects.[32] Abortion legislation in Spain has a fluctuating history. During the 1930s, abortion law was liberalized in the area controlled by the Republicans, but this was short-lived, as the Franco regime with support of the Catholic Church, outlawed abortion again. The laws were relaxed in 1985, and were further liberalized in 2010. Abortion remains a controversial political issue in Spain, but regular moves to restrict it have lacked majority support.[33] In recent years, abortion rates have been falling, as better access to emergency contraception has been introduced.[34]

International Women's Day

On International Women's Day in 2018, there were over 250 demonstrations all over Spain. Some feminist groups asked women to spend no money and do no chores for the day as a domestic strike. At midnight, hundreds of women gathered in Puerta del Sol in Madrid, where they banged pots and pans and shouted women's rights slogans.[35]

The protests were backed by ten unions, who were on strike for 24 hours. Many other unions called for two hour work stoppages. Madrid's metro system was severely disrupted. The strike was covered by news anchors, but the most famous female anchors were away from work.[35]

Left-leaning female lawmakers left the Parliament of Valencia with signs on their chairs that read "I'm stopping".[35]

See also


  1. ^ OECD. "LFS by sex and age - indicators". Stats.oecd.org. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Human Development Report 2021/2022" (PDF). HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORTS. Retrieved 8 November 2022.
  3. ^ "Global Gender Gap Report 2022" (PDF). World Economic Forum. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
  4. ^ "Spain: population by gender 2019". Statista. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r 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.
  6. ^ "Muerte por adulterio en España, un «derecho» del marido hasta 1963".
  7. ^ Moore, Molly (7 October 2006). "After Machismo's Long Reign, Women Gain in Spain". Washington Post. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  8. ^ Catan, Thomas (29 November 2006). "In the dark heart of machismo shines a beacon of sexual equalitry". The Times (Online). Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  9. ^ "Spain Wages War on Machismo Attitudes". Deutsche Welle. 13 July 2008. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  10. ^ "Gender pay gap statistics - Statistics Explained". ec.europa.eu. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  11. ^ Vila, Natalia; Küster, Inés; Aldas-Manzano, Joaquin; Royo-Vela, Marcelo (1 March 2008). "Adaptation of Marketing Activities to Cultural and Social Context: Gender Role Portrayals and Sexism in Spanish Commercials". Sex Roles. 58 (5–6): 379–390. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9341-y. ISSN 1573-2762. S2CID 144638601.
  12. ^ Del Hoyo Hurtado, Mercedes; Berganza, Rosa (1 January 2006). "La mujer y el hombre en la publicidad televisiva: imágenes y estereotipos / Women and men in television advertising: images and stereotype". Zer: Revista de Estudios de Comunicación (21): 161–175. ISSN 1137-1102.
  13. ^ Megan M. Sweeney; et al. (2015). "The reproductive context of cohabitation in comparative perspective: Contraceptive use in the United States, Spain, and France". Demographic Research. 32: 147−182. doi:10.4054/DemRes.2015.32.5.
  14. ^ "Los nacimientos en España se desploman al nivel más bajo en 17 años". elEconomista.es. 13 December 2016. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  15. ^ See: Variable Description - Family - Q 45 Kompetenzzentrum Frauen in Wissenschaft und Forschung[dead link].
  16. ^ 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 20 October 2008.
  17. ^ "CIA - the World Factbook -- Country Comparison :: Total fertility rate". Archived from the original on 28 October 2009. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  18. ^ Algrano (16 March 2019). "Solicitar el permiso de cuidado del hijo lactante siendo padre". Algrano.info. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  19. ^ Jorge Danés (18 June 2015). "La excedencia por cuidado de hijos. Derechos y cómo solicitarla | Laboral 2021". Loentiendo. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  20. ^ a b "Something to celebrate for new fathers in Spain, as paternity leave extended to 16 weeks | Spain | EL PAÍS English Edition". 6 January 2021.
  21. ^ "Las leyes de Franco ampararon el derecho del marido a asesinar a su mujer por infidelidad". 7 November 2021.
  22. ^ Texto de la ley y disposiciones citadas summa.upsa.es Retrieved 29 May 2023
  23. ^ "El adulterio fue delito en España hasta 1978, castigado con hasta 6 años de cárcel". 14 May 2016.
  24. ^ "El Patronato, la cárcel de la moral franquista para adolescentes: "Era como la Gestapo"". 8 July 2018.
  25. ^ Spain. Tribunal, Supremo (May 1992). "[Judgment of 24 April 1992]". Actual Jurid Aranzadi (54): 1, 7. PMID 12293730.
  26. ^ "BOE-A-2004-21760 Ley Orgánica 1/2004, de 28 de diciembre, de Medidas de Protección Integral contra la Violencia de Género". BOE.es. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  27. ^ Minder, Raphael (26 April 2018). "Verdict in Pamplona Gang Rape Case Sets Off Immediate Outcry". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  28. ^ Jones, Sam (26 April 2018). "Protests in Spain as five men cleared of teenager's gang rape". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  29. ^ "Sex attack gang not rapists, say judges". BBC News. 5 December 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  30. ^ Thu, Jul 23, 2015, 19:35 Updated: Thu, Jul 23, 2015, 19:36 (23 July 2015). "Spain raises age of consent for marriage and sex to 16". Irishtimes.com. Retrieved 21 November 2021.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ Teresa Ortiz-Gómez and Agata Ignaciuk. (22-23 October 2010).The Family Planning movement in Spain during the democratic transition Unpublished conference paper.
  32. ^ "BOE.es - Documento BOE-A-2010-3514". 30 June 2012. Archived from the original on 30 June 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  33. ^ "Spain abandons plan to introduce tough new abortion laws". The Guardian. 23 September 2014.
  34. ^ "Abortion numbers continue to fall in Spain - The Local". Archived from the original on 31 December 2014.
  35. ^ a b c Povoledo, Elisabetta; Minder, Raphael; Joseph, Yonette (8 March 2018). "International Women's Day 2018: Beyond #MeToo, With Pride, Protests and Pressure". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 December 2018.

Further reading

Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Country Studies. Federal Research Division.