Spain's Pregnant Defense Minister Stirs Controversy

For the first time, Spain's newly re-elected prime minister has announced a 17-member cabinet that has more women than men. One of them is Spain's first female defense minister, who is also seven months pregnant. Her appointment is causing waves in the Spanish media and beyond.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Spain, there are now nine women in the cabinet. They outnumber the men in the new prime minister's cabinet. And it has a new defense minister, a woman who's seven months pregnant. In a country that gave the world the word macho, these appointments aren't going over so well.

Jerome Socolovsky reports from Madrid.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: The new defense minister, 37-year-old Carme Chacon, led her troops in a salute after she was sworn in this week.

Ms. CARME CHACON (Defense Minister, Spain): (Spanish spoken)

(Soundbite of chant)

SOCOLOVSKY: Repeat after me, she said. Long live Spain. Long live the king.

(Soundbite of music)

SOCOLOVSKY: Spanish media are making much of Chacon being the first women, reportedly in the world, to be named defense minister in such a late stage of pregnancy. The image of her reviewing the honor guard, her belly bulging under a maternity blouse, is all over the Spanish press.

Unidentified Woman (TV anchor): (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: A woman seven months pregnant, this is a picture that will make it around the world, this TV anchorwoman said.

The recently reelected Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero calls himself a feminist. His first cabinet had a 50/50 gender split. It created special domestic violence courts, legalized same-sex marriage, and required political parties to run as many female as male candidates.

Now, Zapatero has outdone himself. His new majority female cabinet even has a minister of equality.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: The daytime talk shows in Spain, which often debate women's inequality, are now discussing whether the defense minister should take the legally mandated four months maternity leave when her baby is born.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

SOCOLOVSKY: In the sleepy Madrid suburb of Soto Del Real, a young couple is out for a stroll. Verhina Cono(ph) is somewhat defensive when asked about Zapatero's majority female cabinet.

Ms. VERHINA CONO: (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: I don't see why it would be any worse, she says.

Mr. ALBERTO BERRERO: (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: He should open society's mind, Alberto Berrero(ph) chimes in, so that we all have the same opportunities and no one is discriminated against because they're a woman or pregnant or any of that.

(Soundbite of car)

SOCOLOVSKY: Down the street, a sporty Audi pulls up. Jose Alvarez and his friend talk disparagingly about Chacon, who has described herself as a pacifist.

Mr. JOSE ALVAREZ: (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: Would you think it was okay in the United States if some pregnant chick, who doesn't know anything, became secretary of defense? he says.

Spanish women have come a long way since the Franco dictatorship, when they were legally subservient to their husbands. But commentators say Zapatero will need to ensure that these appointments are more than just symbolic if he wants to really change the status of women in Spain.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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