Alternate rectors by gender, urge Spanish equality campaigners

Taking turns seen as sensible way to bring balance to solo roles, as new law debated by parliament

三月 11, 2023
Seville, Spain - May 2017 Young women dance flamenco on Plaza de Espana during famous Feria festival
Source: iStock

A draft law requiring Spanish political parties to alternately nominate male and female candidates should also apply to university leadership, gender equality campaigners said.

The draft law, signed off by prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s cabinet on 7 March, follows European Union guidance on equal gender representation in public and private sector decision-making, covering listed companies and public bodies with more than 250 workers or a turnover of more than €50 million (£44.5 million). The governing boards of professional associations and any jury that hands out public funds would also have to have at least 40 per cent of whichever gender is under-represented.

Legal experts at the Conference of University Rectors told Times Higher Education that it was not yet clear from summaries of the text how the law would affect universities, but Rosa San Segundo, a researcher at the Gender Studies Institute at Carlos III University of Madrid, said it appeared to be applicable.

A 2007 equality law and 2011 law on equality in science require that the underrepresented gender makes up at least 40 per cent of PhD defence, project evaluation and other scientific panels. Professor San Segundo said while they had “a lot of political and social impact”, limited monitoring by funders and a lack of penalties for non-compliance had blunted their effect.

Alternating gender could be a way to bring balance to solo academic leadership positions, according to Sandra Dema, a sociology professor at the University of Oviedo and member of the Association of Women Researchers and Technologists (AMIT).

Maria Castro is one of four women standing to be the next rector of Complutense University of Madrid, which has never had a female candidate run in its over 500-year history. “It is not natural that women are under-represented in leadership positions,” she said. “I am convinced, however, that this will be the first and last time that women candidates to rectorship make the headlines simply for being women.”

For some, having women at the top is not the end of the road. The University of Valencia is writing its fourth equality plan and appointed its first female rector in 500 years in María Mestre, who has made feminism one of the priorities of her gender-balanced board of directors. But AMIT’s secretary general, Pas García, professor of optics at Valencia, said that despite this, the most powerful and desirable positions at her institution were always taken by men.

“Men are always in finance positions, and all the vice-rectors are male. The women are more for teaching, student things, the subjects nobody likes. We are ‘academic housewives’. All these things we have to change,” she said.

For Oviedo’s Professor Dema, a gender gap the draft law must close is in the recipients of Spain’s public research awards, which tends to widen as their value and prestige increases. While the National Youth Awards, introduced in 2019, have always hit 50 per cent female winners, the 20-year-old National Research Awards have only crossed that threshold once, and had only 10 per cent in 2022.

Adela Muñoz, professor of chemistry at the University of Seville and AMIT board member, said the association was focusing its campaigning on award panels and their nominee lists.

The law is now subject to approval by Spain’s parliament, which is dominated by Mr Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. The two main parties’ track record on feminism is becoming a battleground as they gear up for an election in December.



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