Spain Approves Right to Paid Menstrual Leave, Extends Reproductive Healthcare and Transgender Protections

The Spanish Parliament has approved a package of history-making legislation to grant paid medical leave for menstruating people that suffer from debilitating period pain, marking Spain as the first country in Europe to advance menstrual equity laws of this nature, according to Politico. The package also included provisions to expand access to abortion and decrease barriers to gender-affirming state documentation for transgender individuals, igniting opposition and disagreement among Spain’s right-wing Popular party ahead of the final voting session. 

Instrumental to these hard-fought legal battles on behalf of women and LGBTQ+ communities has been the advocacy work of the democratic-socialist electoral alliance “Unidas Podemos” (“United We Can”) led by Equality Minister Irene Montero, as well as backing from Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, in spite of internal disagreements within the Left’s factions. Carmen Calvo, the former vice president under Sánchez’s previous cabinet, was one of three members of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party to abstain from the vote, which still prevailed by 185 votes against 154. 

 Montero, a staunch feminist and activist for LGBTQ+ rights, has established a prior track record of strengthening legal protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. She sees this new legislative package as a necessary step forward to ensure that her constituents, and the diversity of experiences that they represent, are given a seat at the table of policy decisions. “Without a doubt, I believe that the function of government is to consolidate in public policy the rights that the feminist movement, that women, are winning,” she told TIME Magazine in January. “As a government, we have to make a decision: Are we going to dare to be part of the democratizing impulse that comes from the feminist movement and from civil society, or are we going to maintain a more cowardly or conservative attitude?” 

Certainly, the adoption of sex-positive and and LGBTQ+ -inclusive laws and policies among prominent political leaders in Spain represents a significant departure from the country’s historically Catholic culture, and may even serve other countries conflicted by the balance of church and state as a model of what progressive social change is possible. As we witness the attacks on reproductive healthcare and mourn the losses of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals from intimate-partner abuse and state-sanctioned violence throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, taking a global perspective can offer greater insight to the liberatory possibilities that are still emerging at this moment. 

Spain’s new laws grant the right for citizens to receive abortions in state hospitals, and permit 16- and 17-year old minors to access contraceptives and change their legal gender markers without parental supervision; policy changes that may exceed our imaginative capacities, yet are supported by a growing body of literature in public health to foster a higher quality of life outcomes for gender and sexual minorities. A 2022 report from the World Economic Forum attributed “sexual and reproductive ill-health” to nearly one-third of the global burden of disease among people of reproductive age, citing increased government investments in these areas of public health as a predictor of lower rates of pregnancy and greater social and economic mobility. Similar trends have been observed in research on gender-affirming health services, indicating that transgender and gender-non conforming folk who are able to access services without legal barriers experience better mental health and physical outcomes, as well as a higher degree of ease with social integration, according to the JAMA Network. 

Guaranteeing the right to paid-medical leave for people who menstruate denotes a radical shift in the way we acknowledge gender inequities within the workforce, and sets an essential precedent for national healthcare policy across other developed nations. Moreover, the case of Spain also demonstrates the importance of advocacy groups in affecting positive social change. Ube Sangil, director of the LGBTQ+- rights organization Federacion Estatal LGBTI+, told AFP that these new policies have resulted from “eight years of tireless work to obtain rights for the trans community.” 

Though the global fight for gender justice and equity is far from won, Spain has brought forth a hopeful case study of how coalition-building on the Left can deliver notable improvements to national social programs and healthcare systems, leaving to the rest of the world a reminder of what can be achieved when the self-knowledge and autonomy of marginalized groups are honored.