feminist graffiti 286f3 copy copy

Paid Menstrual Leave, Reproductive Rights, and Safe Abortions Are More Than Just Feminist Pipe Dreams in Spain, They’re Reality

by Zoë Lourey-Christianson

Imagine for a moment what true gender equality would feel and look like. Equal access to health care, reproductive rights, guaranteed parental rights for LGBTQ+ parents, social inclusion at all levels of society from preschool to boardrooms, comprehensive sexual education in public schools, paid time off for menstrual pain, free period products in schools and prisons, free state-provided emergency contraception, and the right to change your gender without unnecessary medical supervision—it all sounds like a glorious utopia or a wishful imagining of the future, but in actuality, it’s just Spain. 

Last week, the European country passed some incredible legislation and set the example for what feminist policies and government can look like for the rest of the world. The new legislation is a hugely positive step in the movement for gender equality. Not only does it guarantee and facilitate access to sexual and reproductive rights, it also addresses institutionalized gender disparities and expands transgender rights. 

The legislation makes Spain the first European country to offer paid menstrual leave. Anyone who experiences painful periods (so, everyone who experiences a period except for god, herself, probably?) will now be able to get a note from their doctor and be entitled to up to five days off to accommodate the pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Abortion rights have also been expanded thanks to the new laws. Namely, the right to have an abortion at a state hospital rather than traveling to a private clinic is now solidified as law, and 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to receive an abortion without parental consent. The legislation has also done away with the arbitrary “reflection process.” This is similar to abortion counseling laws that exist in many US states where anyone seeking an abortion is forced to first meet with a doctor and then wait a varying amount of time before following through with the procedure. These laws claim to be in womens’ best interest, but in reality are used to make obtaining an abortion more difficult, expensive, and emotionally draining, while giving unethical doctors and crisis pregnancy centers more time to potentially dissuade someone from receiving an abortion. 

Anyone over the age of 16 will also be able to legally change their gender without medical supervision, though those ages 14-16 will still need parental consent, and minors ages 12-13 will also need a judge’s authorization. The new laws have also implemented a ban on the genital mutilation of intersex children and “include measures to end” the disturbing and abusive practice of conversion therapy, according to the UN. Another advancement in LGBTQ+ rights thanks to the new legislation will be guaranteed parental rights for non-heteronormative couples. The Spanish government will now also provide support for lesbian couples and single women seeking IVF treatment. 

The new legislation is largely thanks to Spain’s Equality Minister, Irene Montero. A member of the Unidas Podemos (United We Can) party, Montero is a champion of gender equality and a truly incredible woman. The 35-year-old Madrid-born politician was a member of a Communist youth group in her teens, and has gone on to lead a very successful political career being an outspoken feminist and defender of human rights. One of her more prominent projects is the “Only Yes Means Yes” law that made explicit, verbal consent a necessary component of consensual sex. The intent was to make sure sexual assault cases weren’t being decided based on a victim’s lack of “fighting back” or that their silence while being assaulted wasn’t wrongfully considered consent. Now, with this newest set of gender-equality laws in place, Montero has another feminist achievement to add to her list. 

Spain passing this legislation may sound like the perfect excuse to pack up and move, especially when contrasted with America’s overturning of Roe, the potential ban on mifepristone, and a plethora of other egregious, oppressive policies smacking us in the face each day. But, I urge you to be inspired rather than jealous. Spain is laying the groundwork for our own feminist legislation—we will have a blueprint to look at and an example to cite whenever someone tries to inevitably discredit policies that prioritize gender equality. Expanded transgender and reproductive rights will no doubt contribute to a happier and healthier community, and it is so lovely to know there are places in this world that understand and value that, too.

Top photo is of feminist graffiti in Madrid from Wikimedia Commons

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