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Fashion Shoot Challenges Spain's Socialists

Danny Wood (nda)
August 30, 2004

Spain's government has been hailed as unprecedently progressive for the high-level roles given to women. But after eight female ministers appeared in Vogue magazine, questions have arisen as to its true nature.

Zapatero's sensitivity to the gender balance has helped his popularityImage: AP

Fashionable women across Spain have a surprise in store when they visit their local hair and beauty salon. As they reach across the coffee table for the latest issue of Vogue, they'll find an "exclusive" photo shoot.

But this ten page glamour spread doesn't feature top models like Claudia Schiffer. Instead, reclining in sartorial elegance on couches at government headquarters, are the eight female ministers in Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government, smiling awkwardly from the glossy pages.

The Vogue exclusive -- entitled "Eight Women For History" -- has caused a storm of criticism. Until now, no one has questioned the new Socialist government's determination to push for real gender equality. When the Socialists came to power in March, the days of old-fashioned, Spanish machismo appeared to be numbered.

Sensitive Zapatero rang in the changes

Half of the members of the new government were women and within weeks new legislation was brought in to help counter domestic violence. Prime Minister Zapatero even said that while "other people wear the trousers, I prefer to say that I bring sensitivity."

But after the photos in Vogue magazine, even Socialist colleagues are now wondering whether the prime minister really is in touch with his feminine side.

Former Socialist Minister Cristina Alberdi told DW-RADIO that, as a feminist all her life, she felt extremely disappointed. Pilar Martinez, from the Association for the Promotion of Women, agreed, saying, "It's a way of behaving that is opposed to what the government appears to say and think."

Fashion shoot supports equality, says government

But can a fashion magazine really undermine the cause of gender equality? On the contrary, a spokesperson for the government said, the message from the photo shoot is a progressive one, in favor of equality and in favor of women.

Yolanda Sacristán the director of Spanish Vogue, explained that the objective was to capture this unique moment in Spain's history when, for the first time, women really share the power of government. Sacristán said women shouldn't have to justify why they like to dress up.

And the eight ministers clearly enjoyed it. Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, who likes to wear, close fitting suits, in an oriental style, has argued that the Vogue photo shoot is a valid way of getting Socialist messages across; Cristina Narbona, has professed a liking for unpretentious, practical clothes, as casual as possible, in her role as minister for the environment.