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An Introduction to Catalonia’s Feminist Administration

Originally published by Tania Verge for Ms. Magazine

For many decades, sexual and reproductive rights have been at the core of the global feminist struggle—but only an unapologetically feminist administration puts them at the center of the political agenda. Such is the progressive turn the government of Catalonia, an autonomous region in northeastern Spain, assumed in May 2021 when it created a Ministry of Equality and Feminisms.

In October 2021, this new ministry drafted the national strategy for sexual and reproductive rights. This was founded on the premise that the personal is political, so it must also be public policy. 

This strategy sought to guarantee the effective exercise of existing rights—particularly abortion, long-term contraception and sexuality education.

  • While medical abortion was guaranteed throughout Catalonia thanks to its extensive network of sexual and reproductive health units in public primary healthcare centers, access to surgical abortion presented significant gaps in the territory. Such gaps have been closed, with both abortion methods now guaranteed in all health regions. Protests in front of abortion centers have also been banned.
  • Long-term contraception, IUDs and subdermal implants have been made free for all women under 30, for those with low incomes, and for those experiencing gender-based violence.
  • Sexuality education has been included as curricular content for all educational levels from pre-school to secondary education. This means that parents cannot opt out of their children’s exposure to this educational content.
  • The national strategy for sexual and reproductive rights also introduced new rights, each of them supported by specific measures and action plans, including: the right to menstrual and climacteric equity, the right to mourn miscarriages with a three-day work permit, the right to eradicate obstetric violence, and the right to further medical research on women’s sexual and reproductive health.

‘My Period, My Rules’

How does an intersectional feminist logic of policymaking unfold in practice? Let me illustrate it with a global first: the action ‘My period, my rules,’ which consists of the free distribution of reusable menstrual products to all girls and women age 10 and 60, as well as to transgender men and nonbinary people who menstruate.

These products—one menstrual cup, a pair of menstrual underwear, or two cloth pads—can be collected at any local pharmacy by showing a QR code downloaded from the app of the Catalan public health system, which also covers undocumented migrants. Pharmacists have been trained by the Ministry of Equality and Feminisms on menstruation, reusable products, and sexual and reproductive rights, in order to provide adequate information and counsel.

The action has also been implemented in juvenile detention centers and prisons, and sessions on menstrual health are held in high schools and in community centers. Specific sessions targeting disabled women or migrant women, among other groups, will also be organized with grassroots feminist organizations.

The goals of this action are threefold.

Firstly, social justice: The action fights period poverty, which results from the feminization of poverty. Indeed, 23 percent women in Catalonia cannot afford to buy menstrual products and 44 percent opt for products that are not their first choice due to economic reasons, with implications on school and work absenteeism or on lower participation in sports or leisure activities. More generally, it also compensates for the extra economic cost that menstruating entails for half the population.

The second goal is gender justice—because we need to put an end to the taboos and myths surrounding menstruation that impact on women’s health and well-being.

Thirdly, climate justice, since it contributes to reducing the tons of waste generated by single-use menstrual products.

All these goals justify why, rather than being a means-tested benefit, menstrual equity was conceived of as a right for all women.

Last month, within 10 days of the action launch, over 250,000 women had already collected their free products and the social conversation around menstruation had reached TV and radio political talk shows, social networks, coffee breaks at workplaces, and school parent chats. Besides covering the immediate problem of period poverty, this action has also stirred structural change. Goodbye to taboos, silence and lack of information about our bodies! It was about time.

Many women are now asking: What about perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause—another taboo period of women’s life cycles.

We will get there, but the demand of more rights is another intended, albeit undeclared, goal of the ‘My period, my rules’ action. So, yes: Our Bodies, Ourselves, and Our Rights—because sexual and reproductive rights are human rights.

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