Friday, April 18, 2008

New Defense Minister of Spain, a Woman and Seven Months Pregnant

Carme Chacón, 37, who was seven months pregnant, is the first female boss of Spain’s Armed Forces. Her government position she’s holding now is a counterpart of the United States Secretary of National Defense, Mr. Robert M. Gates. She is one of the nine-women-ministers, whom Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero just appointed. Her husband, Miguel Barroso has worked with Zapatero’s press office in the past.

Ms. Chacón was the housing minister for a brief stint in the previous government. She came from a working class, worked as a shop assistant, studied law (bachelor and doctorate) and taught in Barcelona University. She became the Member of Parliament (MP) at the age of 29. She has helped organizing Mr. Zapateros’s rise to party leadership in 2000.

According to Associated Press, photos of Chacón ran in front page of Spain’s seven national newspapers including the International Herald Tribune on Tuesday. Footage of her appearance dominated Spanish Television; the sight of Chacon’s first day in office, inspecting and reviewing the troops—snappy, trimmed and crisply uniformed soldiers, with her rounded belly (baby bump) covered in a stylish, white tunic maternity blouse, matched with a black pant suit and high heels, came as a jolt. After walking firmly and visibly pregnant, the new Lady Defense Minister gave a concise and adulatory speech—saying her appointment was a sign of progress, and led the troops in rousing cheer of “Viva Epaña, Viva El Rey!” This has shown a picturesque that the Spaniards will not soon forget.

Women’s advocacy groups are so delighted with her appointment— recognizing a feminist message that not only a woman hold a senior position of government or business, but she can do it while expecting a baby, thus, overseeing a military force of 130,000 of which 15% are women. The military has been open only to female service just 20 years ago. While a group of retired officers criticized her lack of military background, yet they insisted that her pregnancy—16 weeks of maternity leave, is not a problem. One high ranking officer anonymously told El Pais newspaper, “We will receive her with the same respect as her predecessors … and perhaps a little more delicacy.”

Spain is a country whose values for exaggerated masculine respect added the word “machismo” in the English dictionary. It would be worth to recall that under the rule of General Francisco Franco who served as the de facto regent of Spain until his death in 1975, only with the permission of her husband that a woman can open a bank account, apply for a passport or sign a contract.

The newly re-elected socialist Prime Minister Zapatero, sworn in the new Spanish Cabinet, by taking their oath of office before King Juan Carlos on Monday, composed of nine women and eight men. Among the women ministers are: Cristina Garmendia (Science & Innovation), Magdalene Alvarez (Transport & Development), Mercedes Cabrera Calvo (Education, Social Affairs & Sports), Carme Chacón (Defense), Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega (Deputy Prime Minister), Elena Salgado (Administration), Bibiana Aido (Equality), Beatriz Corredor (Housing), and Elena Espinosa (Agriculture & Environment). (Please click the images to enlarge)

One editorial has drawn a scenario; the combination of crisis situation among the deployed troops in Afghanistan and peacekeeping force in Lebanon, and a defense minister who is on maternity leave adding that she has no knowledge of military affairs, that would leave Spain in an “absurd” situation.

"... not only a woman hold a senior position of government ... but she can do it while expecting a baby."

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