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Women still struggle for gender equality in Catalan politics

Monday's parliamentary initiative shows that female representation in public institutions is growing, but full parity is some way off


01 July 2019 02:05 PM


Pilar Tomás|Barcelona

Some 135 women - 60 MPs and 75 representatives of organizations - came together on July 1 at 5pm for a special plenary session of the Catalan Parliament to pass a declaration.

The initiative by Parliament and the National Council of Women of Catalonia was modeled on the conclusions of the World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995.

The Beijing Declaration claimed more rights for women in such key areas as education, culture, work and politics, while defending a world where women are free of male violence.

The declaration passed in Parliament was based on the conclusions of six working groups and follows similar examples in places such as Portugal, South Africa and Montenegro.

51% of the population underrepresented

The political arena is a sphere where women continue to struggle to gain ground, with 51% of the Catalan population still underrepresented in its public institutions.

Female figures are prominent in politics, such as Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, former Ciutadans party leader Inés Arrimadas, or former government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi.

Yet, the fact is that less than 20% of the town halls in Catalonia from 2015 to 2019 were led by women, according to the Catalan Gender Equality Observatory.

The Spanish electoral law introduced in 2007 includes an article requiring a “balanced composition” of party voting lists, with at least 40% of the candidates having to be female.

However, the truth is that women have less chance of becoming electoral front-runners: in the 2019 local elections, seven out of ten candidates for mayor in Catalonia were male.

“Heteropatriarchy” to blame, says expert

Political expert Berta Barbet claims that gender inequalities are due to “heteropatriarchy” and says that making laws is not always the most effective solution.

“We need to change our way of thinking to eradicate gender bias and support awareness campaigns,” adds Barbet.

There are two key aspects keeping women from playing a leading role in political institutions, according to Barbet: ingrained bias against them, and their own fear of failure.

The expert argues that people assume that female representatives are not up to the job – in tough negotiations, for example –, while the women fear falling below expectations.

Barbet claims that society's vision of politics is “very masculinized,” and that “the female politicians of the future have few professional examples to follow today.”

In fact, according to the Gender Equality Observatory, women’s speaking time on Catalan public TV in 2017 was about 25% of all the time given to both male and female politicians.

More demands for gender equality

Yet, for Jenn Díaz, member of parliament for the leftist ERC party, “people are aware that public faces tend to be male and are starting to ask for gender equality in their institutions.”

The government's composition has indeed moved towards parity, going from all male ministers (1988-1992) to about 35% of female representation in this term (2017-2020).

Women have also gained visibility in the Catalan Parliament, where they have gone from representing about 5% of the total MPs (1980-1984) to 44.4% (2017-2020).

However, Díaz says “there is much work still to be done” in eliminating gender inequalities, and she believes that now is an ideal moment to “feminize politics.”

“The current situation has carved a new path, freeing the oppressed classes and underprivileged groups," adds the Catalan Parliament member.


  • ERC MP Jenn Díaz (by Pau Cortina)

  • ERC MP Jenn Díaz (by Pau Cortina)