The fight in favour of gender equality has become one of the main priorities of the Consejo General de la Abogacía Española (CGAE) (which translates as the ‘General Council of the Spanish Bars’), in particular since last year’s election of Victoria Ortega as its first ever female President. Ortega, together with the Deans of the Bars of Madrid, Sonia Gumpert, and Barcelona, Maria Eugenia Gay work to serve the Spanish legal profession along with ten other female Deans and Presidents of Regional Councils. Last month, we had the privilege of co-hosting a working lunch with EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vĕra Jourová in Brussels.
During that meeting, Commissioner Jourová explained that the proposed “Women on Boards Directive” – which asks for at least 40% of women on corporate boards of the European Union’s member states until 2020 is evidenced in numerous surveys and studies, which prove that diversity works in management structures. Commissioner Jourová stated that “a good mix of good professionals first, and then good men and good women” is more beneficial for businesses because of the interrelation between diversity and better decision-making. It helped that our co-host of the event was the Spanish Chamber of Commerce.
Commissioner Jourová shared with us her personal experience when President Juncker set out his aim to have at least nine women on the EU28 Commission and promised important portfolios to those Members States who would commit to nominate women. Amongst them, the Commissioner was the first nominee and despite her extensive political experience, two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree, her own national press commented that her only merit for this post was “having been born 50 years ago as a woman”. Whilst the triple grievance in that sentence is shocking, justice was made some days later when, in addition to the Justice and Consumer protection portfolios, she was to be entrusted with Gender Equality.
Commissioner Jourová also announced a new European Action Plan on gender equality, which was launched as part of the 2017 Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights. The Colloquium this year is dedicated specifically to “Women’s rights in turbulent times”. The Action Plan presents ongoing and upcoming measures taken by the Commission to combat the gender pay gap in 2018-2019.
We also discussed the Commission’s Multiyear Action Plan on Equality, which is indicative of the fact that the Spanish Council also has this issue as a priority in its own strategic plan. The Commissioner indicated that she prioritises the measures which have the most economic impact such as the initiatives for equality in pensions and equality of salaries. The Commission is also considering updating anti-discrimination legislation to request more transparency on remunerations and increase sanctions for companies failing to provide equal pay. Additionally, she pointed out two other problems; firstly, young women tend not to choose to study subjects with better professional opportunities and secondly women are less likely to ask for salary increases from their employers.
Back to our work at the Consejo in Spain, it is also worth noting that one of the main aims of the CGAE was the creation of an ‘Equality Committee’ to foster practices of conciliation and sharing of responsibilities as well as to promote access to justice under conditions of equality by detecting and eliminating barriers that discriminate against people based on their sex. The Committee holds an educational role through increasing lawyer’s training initiatives and also acts as an advisory function so that our institutional bodies of the legal profession correct their own internal inequalities. Our Council is also actively promoting the presence of women as participants in workshops and meetings to enhance the gender perspective and make women visible as experts. This issue is also our concern in Brussels, where EU events are often polarized by male candidates.
In May earlier this year, our Council held an ‘Advocacy in Equality’ Conference, to analyse the factors of inequality in society, in justice and in the legal profession, including the unbalanced level of responsibilities taken on by women in the care of the minors and the elderly population. The participants addressed aspects related to the organisation of society, the language of equality, equality in justice, the effects of the law of equality and the measures that can be adopted by the professional institutions to redress the balance.
The Council has also carried out another series of initiatives to make visible the need to fight for objective equality between men and women, such as a special edition of our XIX Human Rights Awards on gender equality and the Congress of the Spanish Lawyer’s Foundation. Spanish local Bars are also increasingly committed to equality, as demonstrated by the 7th Meeting of Government Boards of the Bars, where several best practices in favour of conciliation and gender balance were presented. A notable example comes from the Bar of Alicante which offers its members the possibility of obtaining discounts and other advantages in the schooling of their children from 0 to 6 years old, thanks to the agreements that the Bar has signed with several nursery centres and schools. These agreements seek to facilitate and improve the affordability of the reconciliation of family and work life. Other Bars such as Oviedo also provide nursery facilities in their premises or in cooperation with nursery centres.
Finally, through our EU Office, in addition to our tasks of representing the profession, monitoring EU developments and as part of our project-driven working culture, we are partnering with six other national advocacy bodies and the Council of European Bars & Law Societies (also known as the CCBE) in the European Lawyer’s Observatory. Recently, a European wide survey on work-life balance received more than 4000 responses and its results will be published shortly by each respective Bar.
If reading this article you remain unconvinced by the cause or the priority, you may still be assured of two things: firstly, that gender equality is one of the most deplorable discriminations of our times as it affects the majority of the population and secondly, that as lawyers, we will actively fight against it!