It's not all the same: how the profession of an agent for gender equality works in Spain

This European country is at the forefront of the fight for equality

A country with high unemployment has enough budget to pay wages representatives of a rare profession in the world. This profession is an agent for gender equality. And the country is Spain, which later than all in Europe began to fight for gender equality. The correspondent of “Around the World” found out what these agents do.

It's not all the same: how the gender equality agent profession works in Spain< /p>

Once, in a Spanish cafe at a nearby table, friends discussed the unworthy behavior of the boss of one of them: he fired her when he found out that she was pregnant. They advised different things: “leak” the client base to competitors, sue, call a gender equality agent. The last sounded so strange that I turned around,  – girlfriends searched the Web for the phone number of the mentioned agent at the place of residence of the victim.

I wanted to urgently meet with a representative of an unusual profession. Imagination drew a noble hero who comes to the aid of victims of sexual inequality. But all three equality agents with whom I met turned out to be representatives of the fair sex.

By the way, by calling women the “fair sex”, I violated the professional credo of my interlocutors – not to produce gender stereotypes, no matter how innocent they are did not sound. This was immediately stated by Carmen, with whom we are talking on the run: I am escorting her from the Institute of Women to the Commission on Urbanism.

Agent's Dictionary

Wage gap – different pay for the same work depending on the gender of the employee. In Spain, the average wage gap between men and women is 22.35% (as of 2016).

Gender-based violence – any violence (physical, economic, psychological ), committed on the basis of gender.

Gender mainstreaming (from English gender mainstreaming) – a development strategy that takes into account the different living conditions of men and women in order to ensure their equality.

The use of inclusive (gender-neutral) language – the desire to avoid units in speech with “sexist connotations”, such as generic words. In Spanish, the plural of animate nouns is often masculine: niño – “boy”, niña – “girl”, niñOs — “children” (both boys and girls). In this case, it is correct to say: niños y niñas.

The new masculinity (masculinity) – abandoning the traditional “hegemonic masculinity” and finding new ways to express one's gender. For example, abandoning the role of “breadwinner” in favor of the role of a full-fledged parent.

Education in equality  – training based on the principles of equality between the sexes. This approach does not allow for the distinction between girls and boys in the educational process (for example, cooking for girls and technology for boys in labor lessons).

Affirmative action (positive discrimination)  — Measures to provide benefits or privileges to disadvantaged population groups.

Shared responsibility —equal distribution of responsibilities regardless of gender. In March 2019, a provision was enshrined in law obliging both parents to participate equally in the process of raising children together.

The glass ceiling is a formally unmarked barrier (“ceiling” in a career) that restricts women's career advancement for reasons unrelated to professional qualities.

1. Carmen Garcia

District Gender Equality Agent of the Government of Madrid (Puente de Vallecas District)

Carmen stood at the origins of a profession that originated at the beginning of the 2000s in the muddy foam of a wave driven from the “center”: the European Union insisted on an urgent improvement in the status of women. In 2005, the Madrid mayor's office announced the creation of the city's agent for gender equality, recruited 36 people and threw them into the embrasure of gender inequality.

Why was this position necessary?

“As long as we had Franco's dictatorship, women were in a deplorable position. Until 1975, by law, Spanish women could only obtain a passport or open a bank account with the permission of their husband. But imagine, in 2020 we have the “most female” government in the world: 11 women ministers out of 23. This became possible because since the beginning of the 2000s, several laws on equality between the sexes have been adopted in Spain. To implement them, specialists were needed.

1/5In Madrid, 65 streets were renamed in honor of prominent women

How did you become such a specialist?

– I am an anthropologist by education, I have been interested in the topic for a long time, I graduated from a special course on gender inequality. At first, we just went outside and talked to women. Gradually, the understanding that affirmative action and gender mainstreaming was needed grew out of this.

What does this mean in practice?

– Here, for example, according to the plan for the improvement of the area, it is planned to lay out a park or lay a new road. But if there isn't enough money in the budget for lights or security cameras, it could mean women won't use the road or park for fear of being attacked. Today, thanks to new laws, any budget and any project by the Metropolitan City Hall must pass the approval of the city's equality agents, who may demand more lights or cameras. The requirement will be taken into account, and this will be a positive action in favor of women within the framework of gender mainstreaming, the purpose of which is to introduce a sexual dimension into all spheres of public life.

It doesn't matter: how the profession of a gender equality agent works in Spain

In what other areas?< /p>

“This applies to absolutely everything that is under the jurisdiction of the city authorities: from statistics that do not give a real picture of life if the data is not differentiated by gender, to traffic lights and street names. Over the past two years, we have achieved the fact that 65 streets in Madrid have been renamed after outstanding women. And that the turn-on time of all pedestrian traffic lights in the city has increased by a few seconds for the comfort of women with strollers.

Carmen and I are just standing at a traffic light, green for pedestrians lights up. Instead of the traditional running man in the corresponding section, two women holding hands march cheerfully. “This is not ours,” smiles Carmen, “these are inclusive traffic lights for the LGBT community.” The rights of “special collectives” are fought for by their own organizations.

By the way, are there men in the team of city agents?

— Only one of 36. Those who come to us are those for whom the topic of gender equality is really important. How many men do you know who think about why changing tables are always only in the women's restrooms? Or why women devote less time to hobbies than men, and how to fix it? Or how to free women from unpaid domestic work and help them overcome the glass ceiling? Well, I don't know many. And women are far from all concerned about this.

People are used to living the way they live and do not want to change. Since 2016, we have been implementing a law on gender mainstreaming, and we still often meet a fierce rebuff from heterosexual employees of the mayor’s office, they say, they spread feminism here, without you it’s up to the throat! Therefore, it was decided that absolutely all employees of the mayor's office, and there are more than 25 thousand of them, should take a training course on gender equality. The funny thing is that many, after going through this “forced” training, say: “It changed my view of the world!”

It doesn't matter: how the profession of a gender equality agent works in Spain

What do you consider the greatest achievement in the fight for equality floors?

– Previously, such activities were perceived as an attempt to attach women somewhere, so that, God forbid, they would not hang out idle. And now this is a question concerning everyone and everyone. Instructions, legal acts, institutional support appeared. We, agents, are simply obliged to listen. But anyway, if a newcomer to the profession asks me where to start, I will say: first of all, you need not read the laws, but go out into the street and understand what real problems women face.

Carmen herself no longer goes, as she did 15 years ago, “to the people.” A network of specialized centers for women has been set up in Madrid to assist the agent. They are called “Spaces of Equality”, the first one opened in 2007, now (in 2020 – note by there are already 13 of them. I met my next interlocutor in one of these “Spaces” — in honor of Carma Chacón, who died untimely in 2017, the first female Minister of Defense of Spain, who took up her duties at the seventh month of pregnancy.

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2. Rosa Calvete

Independent Agent for Gender Equality, Zaragoza

Rosa is passing through Madrid, and the “Spaces of Equality” provide meeting rooms (free of charge, as well as various circles, exhibitions, films, legal and psychological consultations, tea and coffee). “To use the services of our center, you just need to be a woman,” says the administrator girl. “But on Wednesday and Friday there are events that you can come with a man.” In the new building of the center, all the walls are hung with portraits of great women. Among absolutely unfamiliar faces and names, I suddenly find my own – Valentina Tereshkova. Rosa is waiting for me in the neat, bright co-working space.

It doesn't matter: how the profession of a gender equality agent works in Spain

What does an independent agent do?

Under the new legislation, all educational centers and companies with more than 50 employees must develop and implement an “equality plan” by 2022. Not everyone understands what it is. I work mainly with schools, teaching teachers the principles of parenting in equality. I explain that there cannot be, for example, an extra-curricular football section only for boys. Or that in history textbooks, the biographies of great women should be present on an equal basis with men.

What prompted you personally to become agents?

— I am a survivor of gender violence. I'm worried about things that other people probably don't even think about. A year ago, I completed an online training course “Agent for equal opportunities between women and men …” There is no unified educational standard in this area yet, but it is not difficult to get basic knowledge in the subject: there are special courses in any women's center.

Indeed, on the door opposite the kitchen, where Rosa and I came to drink coffee, there is a sign “Equality School”. At the table next to us, one of the “students” is breastfeeding a baby, at another, a woman in the uniform of a parking inspector eats lunch brought in a tray, at a third, eight-year-old twins are doing homework, while their mother in the next room is doing relaxation breathing.

What do I need to know as a parent in order to raise a child properly?

Daughter and son should be brought up in exactly the same way. The first and most important rule & nbsp; is not to reinforce stereotypes. For example, toys: supposedly dolls for girls, cars for boys… Children can play whatever they want, toys have no gender. Just like flowers pink or blue.

The second very important thing & nbsp; is to monitor your own behavior. We all grew up in the same culture, we are all “machos” in one way or another and often do not realize this. But the main thing that the educator must instill in the pupil is respect for himself and others. Do not allow anyone to violate your boundaries and do not violate others. It is nurtured from an early age. My dream  is to have a lesson in equality in Spanish schools. Well, or at least sex education to begin with. In Spain, about the age of 10, boys get acquainted with pornography and think that you can do anything with a woman. Until no one explains to them what a healthy relationship is, we will stagnate.

Several classes ended: on breathing practices, photography, family law. The kitchen fills with women of all ages, with several men infiltrating their company. These are the visitors to the New Masculinity Lab, where on the last Tuesday of each month from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm, men are taught how to find a new identity in a changing gender relationship.

Men get in the way or helping the fight for gender equality?

There are not many sympathizers, but they are. Together with me, young people studied on the course, who themselves want to destroy “male” standards, to prove that there are other ways to be a man, besides the traditional ones. This also applies to people with different sexual orientations, who are also not free from patriarchal stereotypes and suffer from gender-based violence.

We are leaving the “Equality Space”. Purple ribbons with names and dates are tied around the iron fence to commemorate women who are not “survivors” of gender-based violence. In 2019, there were 55 such people in Spain. Many gender equality agents specialize in reducing deaths. Among them is my next interlocutor.

Male look

Since the early 2000s, the Association of Men for Gender Equality has been active in Spain. Among its main goals are the fight against machismo and sexism and the development of policies in the field of gender equality for men. One of the ideologists of the men's movement is psychologist Luis Bonino, who studies the mechanisms of gender inequality and ways to combat it. It was Bonino who coined the term “micromachismo”, denoting the hidden, but effective manipulations of men in order to maintain their hegemony.

On the other hand, the psychologist admits that men often resort to them unconsciously, out of fear of losing their gender identity, also imposed on them by society for centuries. Members of the men's association argue: “It is not true that women will benefit from gender equality and men will lose. We will be able to overcome the prescriptions received from the first days of our existence, which oblige us to behave and even feel in a certain way. (spoiler: almost everyone)

3. Nieves González

Director of social consulting at a private marketing company

I have to wait at the office for an hour because Nieves Gonzalez's team is on an emergency call. A few years ago, the department headed by Nieves won a tender from the Madrid government to help victims of sexual violence. Nieves apologizes at length for keeping me waiting: “You never know what you're going to face on a call.”

Who is calling you?

– Women who believe they are being abused by a man, usually a husband or partner. If the victim calls for the first time, a multidisciplinary team visits the woman: a social worker, a psychologist, a lawyer and a coordinator to provide comprehensive assistance. Further work can continue for many years, because women usually apply already in a very neglected psychological state, courts last a long time, bureaucracy again.

Are there factors that increase the risk of being in this position?

Are there any factors that increase the risk of being in this position?


“There is no relationship between age, origin, education, economic status of a woman and gender-based violence. Among those who call us are university professors and women with primary education, Spaniards and foreigners, old and young, very wealthy and poor. There is only one risk factor – to be a woman. Everything else is myths. As, for example, the myth that in the Nordic countries women suffer less from male arbitrariness. This is wrong. Spain is, in a sense, a pioneer in the fight against it. Delegations from many EU countries come to us.

It's not all the same: how the profession of a gender equality agent works in Spain

What other resources do women who find themselves in a difficult situation?

– Along with the emergency number 112, everyone knows 016  – a toll-free number for victims of gender-based violence, which is not reflected in the phone bill so as not to “set up” the caller. Women have the opportunity to receive financial assistance to start an autonomous life, as well as use temporary “secret” housing if they are threatened with persecution.

What rules should an equality agent follow?

– First, do not try on everything that you see and hear, because you have to deal with terrible things. Secondly, never be like the aggressor. There is a very strong temptation to say: “You must leave him, start a new life, find a job.” But in the lives of these women, there is already a dominant man who constantly says what they should do. The agent cannot behave in the same way. He should only help a woman do what she wants.

It doesn't matter: how the profession of a gender equality agent works in Spain

And do you see any progress?

—Society has changed a lot. In my childhood, the figure of a father in Spanish families caused more fear. Today the situation is different, and many men admit that they discovered the joy of fatherhood after women forced them to take part in caring for children together. I am an optimist, I see more and more men who understand that this is not a power struggle. This is a fight for shared responsibility.

The phone rings and Nieves apologizes – you need to go to court, where they must listen to her opinion. She knows that not everyone likes it, but the process cannot be stopped. In any case, in 2019, demonstrations for women's rights on March 8 in Spanish cities were the most numerous in Europe.


The material was published in the magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 3, March 2020, partially updated in August 2023

Anna Papchenko

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