Spain, which has long had a reputation for being an arch-Catholic and conservative country, has taken a major social leap forward. Especially in the fight against discrimination against women and male violence and for more equality, the Spanish kingdom is one of the European pioneers today.

It’s a change fueled by Spain’s progressive Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. “We will not stop until we have a society with equality, justice and without macho violence,” promises the 50-year-old socialist, who has been in office for four years. Feminist politics is one of his priorities. “We live in the time of women,” he says.

That wasn’t always the case in Spain. Under the dictator Franco, women were under the guardianship of their husbands until 1975 – with the blessing of the Church. Today things are different: Spain is a modern, secular state. bishops lost their influence; only a third of the population still pays church tax.

In the past few weeks, Sánchez’s government has launched several reforms that have caused a stir across Europe: For example, the “Only yes means yes law”, which makes it easier to prosecute sexual assaults because any physical approach without consent both partners can be punished as violence. Or the menstrual decree, which gives women with severe menstrual pain the express right to call in sick.

Sánchez already set clear signals with his cabinet: 14 women, nine men – women rule in most important ministries. The departments of economy, labour, finance, defense and justice are women.

Minister for Women Irene Montero is one of the influential people who are helping to shape Spain’s journey into the future. The 34-year-old psychologist is one of the figureheads of the left-wing Podemos party, which forms the center-left government as a junior partner with the Socialists.

The laws that shape Spain’s reputation as a role model in gender equality policy come primarily from Montero’s ministry. The exemplary transgender law is also one of them. It enables every citizen over the age of 16 to change their gender unbureaucratically. Without a medical certificate, psychiatric reports and other degrading hurdles. A simple declaration at the registry office is sufficient.

In fact, the first milestone in Spain’s feminist awakening was laid almost two decades ago. Namely with a “law against gender-specific violence”, which strengthened the rights and protection of abused women and drastically increased penalties for perpetrators.

At that time, too, a socialist reacted. His name was Jose Luis Zapatero. In 2004 he managed to get all parties on board for his law against male violence. At that time, particularly many acts of violence against women shook the country. The reform caused the number of women killed by partners or ex-partners to decrease. In relation to the population, fewer femicides are now being registered in Spain than in Germany.

The Spanish anti-violence law was followed in 2005 by the legalization of same-sex marriage, including the right to adopt – much earlier than in Germany, for example. In 2010, the Socialists pushed through an extremely generous liberalization of abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy.

And then came the great standstill with the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy wanted to reverse abortion and gay marriage reforms. However, he was unable to enforce this because women and homosexuals from within his own ranks protested.

In 2018, Rajoy stumbled upon corruption and Pedro Sánchez took over. Since then, the economist has used the opportunity to continue turning the wheel of social reforms. For example, with the legalization of active euthanasia, which is otherwise only permitted in Europe in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.

But the era of the reformer Sánchez could soon come to an end. The pandemic, which has claimed many victims, along with the economic slump, horrendous energy prices, large losses in income due to record inflation and the country’s controversial reconciliation course with Catalonia’s independence movement – all of this seems to have weakened Sánchez’s support.

In polls, the conservative People’s Party is almost level with its new leader, Alberto Feijóo. Together with the also growing right-wing populist party Vox, which already governs in some regions with the conservatives, there could be a new majority in the election at the end of 2023.

Conservatives and right-wing populists have already indicated what they want to do first after seizing power: abolish Spain’s Ministry of Gender Equality.