Many feminists in Spain looked at the new left coalition government formed in 2019 between the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and the hard left Unidas Podemos party with some skepticism after it declared itself “feminist,” but nothing could have prepared them for what lay ahead. In February 2023, the “most feminist government” in the history of Spain, according to President Pedro Sánchez, passed what is commonly referred to as the ‘’Trans Law,’’ despite feminist push back.
The legislation allows anyone over the age of 16 to legally change their sex (minors between the ages of 12-14 can do so with the permission of a judge and those between 14-16 need permission from a legal guardian), and essentially bans “non-affirmative” care, introducing a ‘’gag rule’’ criminalizing dissenting views, with fines of up to 150,000 euro for those who fail to comply. The latter is primarily aimed at psychologists who might be assisting distressed children and youth but challenge their identification as “trans,” rather than embrace it, no questions asked. In Canada, a similar law was passed in 2021, banning so-called “conversion therapy,” which in the context of gender identity demands therapists and medical professionals support a minor’s desire to transition, despite growing evidence that both social and medical transition come with serious risks.
The trans law violates CEDAW and Spanish equality legislation, both of which protect women from sex-based discrimination, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that “the child, by reason of his/her physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection.” The law effectively erases the right of women and girls to single-sex provisions and services and compromises sex-disaggregated data collection and analysis which shape public policy, including policies preventing and responding to violence against women.
Spain’s gender identity legislation was, as we saw happen in many other countries, including Canada, pushed through the back door with little public debate. Key figures from the women’s movement and experts in disciplines like law, medicine, psychology, and education were only able to voice concerns during a parallel event hosted by the center-right party, Partido Popular. The government in power ignored those voices.
This move did not come without repercussions. Sunday’s election saw many feminists in Spain — traditional left-wing voters — decline to vote for these “feminist” parties, spoiling their ballots instead. The “trans law” was a factor, as well as the disastrous Organic Law (known as the “only yes means yes” law), which removed the distinction between sexual abuse and sexual aggression, meaning harsher crimes were treated as less so, and over 1000 perpetrators of sexual violence got reduced sentences, with 115 prisoners released (to date). Warnings about both laws went ignored, leading many women in Spain to conclude they can no longer trust a government that prioritizes trans activism and woke virtue signalling over the rights of women, children, and youth.
Not only that, but a 22-year-old trans activist named Elizabeth Duval (born born Martín Carballo) was appointed as spokesperson for feminism, equality, and LGTBI rights and freedoms representing the leftist party, Sumar. To appoint Duval as feminist representative is an insult to women to say the least. But this is also an individual who has openly mocked women’s fight for sex-based rights, joked about the erasure of women, and suggested the Spanish Feminist Party is fascist (in fact, its founder Lidia Falcón O’Neill fought for freedom under Franco’s dictatorship).
While the center-right Partido Popular (PP) technically won the most seats on Sunday, they will probably not form a government as they do not have enough seats to rule, meaning Sánchez could remain in power. While the leftist government abandoned women, the prospect of a right wing win was not a good one either, as this may have led to a coalition with Vox — a far right party that denies violence against women in intimate relationships as an issue that requires specific legislation and opposes abortion rights. Had PP and Vox won enough seats to form a coalition government, there would have been pressure from Vox’s constituency to roll back women’s rights and replace the ministry of equality with a “family ministry,” which would promote higher birth rates and a “traditional” approach to “family values.”
The result of this election means there is no clear victor, and the possibility of another election in December or a ‘’renewed’’ left coalition (depending on the support of Catalan pro-independence party Junts pel Sí, which will demand a referendum to break away from Spain) puts the country in a situation of political uncertainty.
Whereas the UK’s Labour Party has announced its intention to simplify the process of legally changing one’s “gender” as well to maintain the single-sex provisions specified in the Equality Act protecting women-only spaces, if a left coalition forms government in Spain, we will see the most significant embrace of gender identity ideology in Southern Europe, all under the guise of supporting feminism and LGBTQI rights. A left coalition could also include proposals to regulate prostitution and “altruistic” surrogacy, which is currently forbidden under Spanish law. Regardless of whether a left or right wing party forms the government in Spain, the women’s movement will need to continue fighting to maintain women’s sex-based rights and protections. That we must still do this under a “feminist” government seems particularly ironic.
Maria Reglero is a Spanish feminist and international consultant on women’s rights.