The ladies' man

21st April 2004, Comments 0 comments

Spain's new prime minister has grabbed the headlines for his decision to pull troops out of Iraq. But at home, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's quieter social revolution, which aims to "eradicate machismo", may make bigger waves. We

Fernandez de la Vega, deputy prime minister and minister of the presidency

The front page of Spain's satirical magazine 'El Jueves' (Thursday) shows a cartoon of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero dressed as a transvestite.

The caption with the cartoon reads: "Half and half."

It refers to the eight men and eight women who make up Zapatero's cabinet. It is perhaps an apt comment on the most striking part of his agenda.

The new Spanish prime minister has promised to make equality between sexes an "emblematic task".

Carmen Calvo, culture

Already Spain has a new women's minister and will soon get a law to clamp down on domestic violence, which claims the life of one woman each week.

Zapatero has also promised to stop male succession by Spain's Royal family.

Add to this a pledge to bring in abortion on demand within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

But beyond the headline-grabbing promises, why does Zapatero paint himself as the champion of women?

Cristina Narbona, environment

The answer is simple, believe some commentators: votes.

Forget about winning the propaganda war over Iraq, says Eric Pape of Newsweek magazine, what Zapatero really worries about is the female vote.

"Consider Zapatero's female-friendly slate of key issues: affordable housing, education improvement and employment and quickly it becomes clear why one million more women than men voted for Zapatero," says Pape.

"The war Rodriguez Zapatero wants to fight is nearer to home."

Elena Espinosa, agriculture and fisheries

A recent interview with the Socialist leader in Marie Claire magazine showed that Zapatero knows how to appeal to the female voter.

"Other people wear the trousers. I prefer to say that I bring sensitivity," he said.

But journalists Joana Bonet and Virginia Galvin note: "Zapatero will break away from the interview to tell you how he would like to live in the mountains by a river.

"The 'gentle gladiator' who has made 'force and honour' his slogan says he likes white roses."

Magdalena Alvarez, development

So who are the women Zapatero has brought into his cabinet?

Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, who served in the last Socialist government from 1994 to 1996 under former PSOE Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, will now be first deputy prime minister and minister of the presidency.

According to the Spanish press, the new first deputy prime minister will be a heavyweight in this administration and part of its 'hard core'.

Fernandez de la Vega will take charge of several key projects, including constitutional reform.

Maria Antonia Trujillo, housing

In addition to the post of first deputy prime minister, women have been appointed to be ministers of infrastructure (public works); education and science; agriculture; fisheries and food; culture, health and consumption; environment; and housing.

These are all departments that will face serious challenges during Zapatero's four-year term - and ones that make up a hefty part of the government's general budget.

The infrastructure ministry, headed by economist Magdalena Alvarez, will oversee spending more than EUR 83 billion under an ambitious plan to improve Spain's highway and railway systems.

Maria Jesus Sansegundo, education and science

Environment Minister Cristina Narbona will have to propose alternatives to the controversial transfer of water from the Ebro River water to the south-eastern regions of the country - a plan defended by the prior Popular Party government but opposed by ecologists.

Narbona, who also served under Gonzalez, will have to bring Spain in line with the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Health Minister Elena Salgado will face several challenges, including obtaining financing for the health projects proposed by the Socialists and legislation on assisted reproduction and the use of stem cells.

Elena Salgado, health

Maria Antonia Trujillo, the new Housing Minister, will have to deal with

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