Spain’s coalition partners lock horns over gender violence policy

Podemos denounces ‘frustrated sexism’ in government

A row over gender-equality policy has triggered the first major dispute between the two main partners in Spain’s leftist coalition government.

The Socialist Party of prime minister Pedro Sánchez and Podemos, to its left, have been at loggerheads after clashing over new legislation to combat gender violence.

On Tuesday, the cabinet approved the draft Bill of the so-called Sexual Freedom Law, which seeks to clamp down on sexual assaults and clarify sexual consent.

The Bill was drawn up by the equality ministry, which is under Podemos. However, the Socialist-held justice ministry objected to details of the law, leading to a public wrangle between the two departments.


A litany of technical criticisms the justice ministry had made of the bill before its presentation was leaked to the media. Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos who is also one of four deputy prime ministers, responded angrily.

“The women of this country have had to face a lot of excuses, historically that has been a way of limiting and trying to stop the advance of the feminist movement,” he told reporters.

“Behind the technical excuses I think that there is a lot of frustrated sexism,” he added, in what was widely seen as a veiled attack on justice minister Juan Carlos Campo.

Clash points

The Socialists and Podemos formed Spain's first coalition government of the modern era in January. This is not the only time they have clashed since then – they have disagreed on aspects of immigration policy and on management of the coronavirus. However, this dispute has been more fierce, reflecting how significant the feminism issue is in Spain.

The controversy has flared up just before International Women’s Day on March 8th, which has become a particularly big date in the Spanish calendar. Podemos was keen for the new Bill to be unveiled ahead of Sunday’s celebrations, which will include a series of mass demonstrations across the country.

Feminism is a hot topic elsewhere. This week, the actress Candela Peña drew an angry backlash when she spoke out against the idea of gender quotas in the film industry.

“I respect feminazis, but they have to respect the rest of us,” she said, in reference to those with feminist beliefs.

Both Podemos and the Socialist Party have sought to make gender equality a priority, drawing praise from many quarters but also criticism from parties on the right that they are trying to co-opt the issue for electoral gain.

The Socialists have sought to play down the recent fracas, with party spokesperson Adriana Lastra insisting: “There are no sexist ministers, this is a profoundly feminist government.”

This weekend, Inés Arrimadas will seek to become the first female leader of a major national party in recent decades, when she runs in the right-of-centre Ciudadanos’s primary contest.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain