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Spain aims to boost EU gender equality

20 January 10 11:04 GMT

Euro MPs have applauded a pledge by Spain to promote sexual equality in Europe and fight gender-based violence during its six-month EU presidency.

Spain's socialist prime minister set out his vision in a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called gender-based violence "a scourge that still affects many societies in Europe", and vowed to "remove" it.

Spain has pursued a markedly egalitarian agenda under Mr Zapatero.

The country is among six EU states that have legalised gay marriage.

Mr Zapatero's policy on gay rights has been opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, traditionally seen as the guardian of family values in Spain.

The Church also opposes the Spanish government's introduction of fast-track divorce and its plan to introduce abortion on demand.

The controversial abortion law - not yet adopted - would allow abortion on demand up to the 14th week of pregnancy, even without parental permission, for 16- and 17-year-old girls.

At present, a pregnancy can only be terminated in Spain under specific circumstances: rape, when there are signs of foetal abnormality or if the mother's physical or psychological health is at risk.

Mr Zapatero has a cabinet of nine women ministers and eight men. It is the first time that Spain has had such a sexually balanced government.

Euro MPs clapped loudly as the Spanish prime minister outlined his plans on gender equality.

The Spanish government says it will present proposals to strengthen existing protections for victims of crime, especially of terrorism and gender-related violence.

Spain also wants to strengthen the EU's legal framework for child protection, notably to curb sexual abuse of children.

Spain took over the EU presidency on 1 January - becoming the first member state to take over the 27-nation bloc under the new Lisbon Treaty.

The treaty means Spain has to co-ordinate its presidency with the new president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton from the UK.

EU summits will be chaired by Mr Van Rompuy, the former Belgian prime minister. But Spain will steer other top meetings and host summits with non-EU countries.

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