Gender: Interview with Trade Unionist Ms Carmen Bravo Sueskun

To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we interviewed the Confederal Secretary of the women’s committee of the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) in Spain, Ms. Carmen Bravo Sueskun …

Press release | 08 March 2011

ACTRAV INFO: You are the women’s Confederal Secretary of CCOO (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras). On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, how would you assess the progress of working women in Spain?

Carmen Bravo Sueskun: The progress of women’s rights in Spain is closely connected to political developments during the past century. The Second Spanish Republic was a turning point in the acquisition of women’s rights – central to which was the right to vote. Indeed, Spain was among the first countries in Europe where women obtained the right to vote. During the Second Republic, the major fighter for women’s rights was Clara Campoamor, a close political associate of Clara Zetkin. Clara Campoamor defended universal rights to vote in front of the Congress, which required a lot of political courage as many did not favour the acquisition of women’s rights. Together with the right to vote, the new Constitution provided for the right of women to divorce. Advances were made in public education and healthcare.

These were major achievements, which proved fragile. With the arrival of General Franco to power, Spain entered that dark era of dictatorship for 40 years. The rights women gained during the Second Republic were lost. During his regime, a traditional tirade model was re-established and women were forced to be confined to their former role as mothers, wives, and caregivers.

After the fall of Franco’s regime, the feminist movement picked up, in a process closely interwoven with the emerging independent trade union movement which promoted, in parallel workers’ and women’s rights, in line with the Constitution adopted in 1978. Together, feminists and trade unions worked side-by-side for political, social, and women’s rights.

“Spanish history shows that women’s rights were hard to gain but could be quickly lost”.

ACTRAV INFO: After the crisis, many countries, including Spain, adopted austerity measures to recover their economies. In your opinion, what are the consequences of these measures on women’s conditions?

Carmen Bravo Sueskun: In Spain, great progress was achieved in the years before the crisis. Important gender equality legislative measures were adopted: addressing violence against women, the right to abortion, gender and collective bargaining, but also parental provisions. A Ministry of Equality was established, creating a broader institutional framework for gender equality.

“Now regrettably with the crisis, we can see the fragility of advances for women again. The crisis shows that the legal progress is good but not enough to sustain the rights of working women”.

The government’s political will is indispensable to sustain these advances, and to implement changes in practical terms. While on the one hand this Government contributed to the legal progress, on the other, current austerity measures have undermined the chances for implementation. Austerity severely cut public services and wages, as well as social security. Pensions have been frozen. The labour reform introduced was detrimental to workers. Those most affected by these measures are women: as workers and caregivers.

The crisis has disproportionately affected Spanish women in the labour market. Unemployment rate for women is now 21 per cent and men 19 per cent. The two per cent difference appears small, but it does not tell the whole story because the reasons behind it are very different. While for Spanish women the roots are structural problems and historical legacies, for men it is more the economic conjuncture that is at play.

We also have occupational segregation as a major explanatory factor. Discrimination against women in the labour market takes two forms: disproportional representation in part-time jobs and over-representation in the services sector, where wage discrimination is high. The gender pay gap in Spain is now at about 27 per cent. This situation does not match the high educational attainments of women. In Spain 60 per cent of those with university degrees and above are women, and yet 40 per cent of women under the age of 30 are unemployed. Knowledge and talent seem not to be recognized by society, in spite of political statements that claim the contrary.

The Spanish Government is actually abandoning its commitment for gender equality. A clear example is that parental leave has been reduced. Another major example is the abolishment of the recently-established Ministry of Equality. The latter act has undermined the structural and institutional base on which a long-term policy on equality could have been implemented. And, compared to other European countries, gender equality in Spain has advanced less in terms of activity and labour force participation rates, the gender pay gap, precarious contracts and social security.

ACTRAV INFO: What should be done in Spain to improve women’s working conditions in the present context?

Carmen Bravo Sueskun: We have several important elements that should be taken into account if we are to understand the impact of the crisis on women in Spain. As mentioned, the first one stems from the fact that even before the crisis, there were more unemployed and under-employed women in Spain than in other European countries. The destruction of jobs in Spain was also more brutal. Add to this the erosion of public services and social security, and the sum effect on women is quite negative.

“The government cannot put themselves at the service of market. The markets will ask for more and more. This will lead to less equality, including less gender equality!”

The Government has the key responsibility to develop public policies and make productive investment in the national industry. Current policies of only cutting costs cannot be justified. Fiscal policy has to allow for developing public jobs and services. Downward pressure on pensions is unacceptable. What we need is a return to the welfare state with government commitment to social rights.

ACTRAV INFO: Finally, what are the long-term solutions that you recommend to attain equality between men and women at work in your country?

Carmen Bravo Sueskun: Now that we are in the house of the ILO, I would like to finish with the following conclusions.

First, there will be no solutions to the persisting gender inequalities unless they are tripartite solutions. The tripartite consensus should, however, lead to upward adjustments of social provisions, thus conducive to both greater gender equality and decent work for all Spanish workers.

The second conclusion is that women themselves have to be part of these solutions. Only an approach such as this is the way to sustainable development, a just society, and gender equality – coupled with inclusive, productive, and knowledge-intensive work.

Interviewer: Mamadou Kaba SOUARE

For more informations, contact:

Dimintrina DIMITROVA
Specialist in Workers’ Activities
Responsible for Gender
Desk Officer for Europe
Tel:+41 22 799 61 87
Email: dimitrova[at]ilo[dot]org