Rodríguez Zapatero: “The most important change of the 21st century will be the conquest of women’s rights”

In a virtual speech on March 26 addressing gender-based violence in Cape Verde, Club de Madrid member and former Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, highlighted three pillars of action to set a structural response to the issue: prevention, protection and participation. The occasion also marks the 10th anniversary of Cape Verde’s Gender Violence Law.

“We come from 20 centuries of violence against women, which is an expression of the worst discrimination possible,” Zapatero said. “The 21st Century offers an opportunity to rectify this injustice.” 

Zapatero’s experience with gender equality in Cape Verde includes the programme INSPIRED+ completed three years ago and focused on the rights of national domestic workers, who are, in an overwhelming majority, women. As Spanish Prime minister, between 2004 and 2011, his government passed the country’s first Gender Violence Law and was proud to call itself feminist since day one, he stated. The law then became a reference in Europe for its general and comprehensive nature.  

Focusing on the prevention aspect of gender-based violence, the first pillar, Zapatero emphasized the importance of education, especially through social media and other means that appeal to younger audiences. Discussing protection, he examined the need for specific training for the judiciary and the state security forces, to allow women to feel safe and supported when reporting violence. 

“The whole system must place gender at the core of its action,” Zapatero said. He also added that criminal law has a key role in being able to both prevent such crimes and adequately penalize them when they happen. 

Lastly, he deemed society’s participation fundamental in acting as safe haven for victims of gender-based violence. In Spain, this is done through programs such as labour reinsertion and financial support, for example, which ensure dignity to the victims and the means to leave a violent situation. “Society must follow the victims throughout this difficult process, so they feel supported by the state, by institutions and by society at large,” he added. 

Zapatero said that the fight against gender-based violence is a prime indicator of societal progress, and expanded on how denying one’s individuality and rights can also compromise a country’s commitment to democracy. “Criminal machismo is the clearest expression of the idea of dominance and belonging of men over women,” he said. “Machismo ignores the will and self-determination of women, denying them the status of her person.”  

Gender-based violence is reduced as equality between men and women extends to all areas of society, he said — in politics, at work, in companies, even in religious practices —  and the fight is for egalitarian societies in which women do not have to strive to achieve rights that men are given by default. 

Deep, historical reparations should come in response to gender-based violence, Zapatero added. “The present century offers us a window of opportunity, a new era to rectify the greatest injustice of humanity that has been perpetrated in silence and has remained in time.”

“The most important change of the 21st century will not be artificial intelligence, nor the fourth technological wave,” Zapatero concluded. “The most important revolution of this time is the conquest of women and of rights that were unthinkable 50 years ago, and that have led to a different vision of society.”