Spanish psychologist, politician, mother and feminist, Irene Montero is the Spain Minister of Equality (2020-today). Committed to social causes since her teenage years, she fights for gender equality, and lately, the recognition of LGBTQI+ rights in her country.
Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, Irene Montero joined the Communist Youth Union of Spain at the age of 16. She soon found her political path in the Podemos party after joining the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca to fight against evictions of people in arrears with their mortgage payments.
However, she was not supposed to follow a career in this field, but in psychology. Indeed, Irene Montero holds a degree in psychology from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid as well as a master’s degree in educational psychology. Since her last degree in 2013, she has been a doctoral student at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid with a scholarship for the training of university teachers. She always describes herself as “psychologist, mother and feminist.”
Is it still hard to be a woman in politics?
Irene Montero’s political career seems to be a success. The woman was only 29 years old when she became the leader of the Podemos parliamentary group. She stood out in 2017 when she took to the podium to defend an ultimately unsuccessful motion of censure against right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. “It was the first time that a woman has stood up to defend a censure motion” she declares to the media. In January 2020, the politician was appointed Minister for Equality in the Spanish government and explicitly claimed her autonomy and feminist commitment. She will appear in a TV debate with a baby in a sling, breastfeeding in an interview or shedding a tear during a speech on gender violence. Often labelled a “radical feminist” by the right and centrists, she ignores these remarks and continues to act as she sees fit.
“It’s difficult for a young woman to be in politics. Regardless of how competent you are, how much experience you have or how politically successful you are, there will always be a political argument that undermines you, whether it’s your partner, your friends or your youth.”
One could say that Irene Montero seems to be a powerful woman, leading a successful career, and gently changing attitudes in her country. Unfortunately, it only seems to be. The politician is powerful and strong, and she is building a significant change among the Spanish people, but it is not without a price. As she declares, “It’s difficult for a young woman to be in politics. Regardless of how competent you are, how much experience you have or how politically successful you are, there will always be a political argument that undermines you, whether it’s your partner, your friends or your youth.”
Her partner, Pablo Iglesias Turrion, is the radical left leader of Podemos, the anti-austerity movement born in 2011 during the economic crisis. Irene Montero’s abilities and success have often been justified by her relationship with Iglesias. The remarks were obviously not returned to her husband. This situation has been very complicated concerning female voters and her recognition by her peers. She was finally pushed to declare in Parliament: “I’ll have whoever I like in my bed.”
What has she done as a Minister of Equality of Spain?
Since January 2020, many changes have been launched by the new Spain Minister of Equality. At the end of 2020, Spain joined the countries that now rely on the absence of consent in the judgment of rape. With the “Only yes means yes” law, explicit consent is required for any sexual act.
On the same principle, the assistance provided to survivors is improved in line with the Istanbul Convention and the European Council recommendations. This is reflected in the creation of a network of specialised information and comprehensive assistance services based on availability, accessibility and quality standard, including 24-hour crisis centres. For the first time in history, Spanish regulations recognise all forms of violence against women, including genital mutilation, intentional infection with sexually transmitted diseases, forced marriage, symbolic sexual violence and sexual exploitation of women and girls.
“The only way to guarantee equality between men and women is to educate for equality from school.”
She also announced a new national plan for equality between women and men aimed at raising awareness and preventing all forms of gender-based violence, with two central axes: addressing the problems at all stages of a child’s education and the digital environment. For her, “The only way to guarantee equality between men and women is to educate for equality from school.” Feminist and gender studies have also been fully recognised in the country as a field of knowledge. This gender equality plan includes all areas of life and focuses on reducing the gender pay gap.
However, her focus is on the Sexual Freedom Act, which aims to achieve official recognition of the range of sexes, genders and sexualities and to ensure full protection of sexual freedom and against sexual violence. Within the framework of this law, Irene Montero is currently working on new bills to promote LGBTQ+ rights, although she has been criticised for this stance. This law will focus on the prevention of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sexual characteristics.
“We are making history with a law that takes a giant leap for the rights of LGBTI people.”
Much remains to be done to implement and make effective the regulations, but their approval and recognition by the Spanish government is already a significant step forward for gender equality. In another concrete and positive example of Irene Montero’s contribution as Minister for Equality, the Spanish government approved last June a first draft law that would allow anyone over the age of 14 to legally change their sex without a medical diagnosis or hormonal therapy.
Our last Inspiring Thursday: Ruth Koleva
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