16 February 1962: A major step towards the recovery of women's rights

A woman worker sells a ticket on a bus in Bilbao in 1960.
A woman worker sells a ticket on a bus in Bilbao in 1960. / EFE
  • The Civil War and Franco regime were detrimental for women's advancement

February 16th 1962 was a very important date for women in Spain; on that day the official state bulletin, known as the BOE, published a decree from the Ministry of Work which granted women equal rights to men in the workplace.

This was a major step forward, because women had lost many rights after the Civil War. Huge progress had been made during the Second Republic, which lasted from 1931 until the Civil War began in 1936: women were accorded full legal status, Spain became one of the first countries in southern Europe to enfranchise women, abortion was legalised, adultery was no longer treated as a crime and women were given equal access to the labour market. Under the 1931 Pay Law, workers were granted the right to equal pay for the same work, irrespective of gender.

However, when the Franco dictatorship began in 1939, many of those rights were withdrawn. Numerous laws were abolished, with strong support from the Catholic Church, including those regarding civil marriage and divorce. There were severe penalties for women who had abortions or who committed adultery.

Basically, the State wanted to restrict women to the home and subject them to the authority of their father or husband: a woman needed her father's or husband's permission to drive, work, own property and travel away from home. Women could not have bank accounts of their own, as all accounts had to be registered in the name of their husband or their father. During the dictatorship, the role of women was made clear: they were to look after the home, bear children and instill traditional moral values. If single women worked, they were expected to give up their job when they married, and there was no place for women in public life.

Things began to change after the Second World War, when the USA began to invest in Spain in the 1950s in exchange for setting up military bases in the country. The improved economy resulted in gradual social changes in the 1960s, and people became more aware of women's rights in other countries. More women benefited from an education and in general they began to be granted more freedom. Many of them took the opportunity to go out to work.

The situation improved still further after the death of Franco, but despite the advances there is still some way to go. Last year, on International Women's Day, a massive march took place in Madrid (500,000 people participated, according to the organisers, although the authorities put the figure closer to 40,000) demanding more measures to combat gender violence and major differences in salary and working conditions. As many of the protesters pointed out, the World Economic Forum had said shortly beforehand that at present rates of progress it will take another 169 years for the economic gap in Spain to close completely.