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We Spoke to the Spanish Politician Who Publicly Told Off Her Sexist Polish Colleague

Last week, Iratxe García made it clear she has no time for old Polish men telling the European Parliament that women "are weaker, smaller, and less intelligent."

by Laura Conde
Mar 8 2017, 6:44pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Spain.

Iratxe García is the socialist Spanish member of the European Parliament whose parliamentary telling off of Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke last week went wildly viral. Korwin-Mikke briefly took the European Parliament on a trip back to the 1950s, when he stated that women "must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, and less intelligent" in response to a question from García about the pay gap. García, in turn, told Korwin-Mikke that however painful it must be for him, she was there to defend European women from men like him.

Since the video was published, García says she's received a lot of support from European citizens, "especially from Polish men and women who are ashamed of Korwin-Mikke's statements." I caught up with her to find out what it's like to deal with sexists in European politics and how she thinks we can achieve gender equality.

VICE: What was it like to hear that kind of statement in the European Parliament—a place that is supposed to represent every European citizen?
Iratxe García: I felt so angry. I didn't think he'd dare to say anything like that—even though we've gotten somewhat used to Korwin-Mikke's comments by now. He's made similar statements about immigrants and refugees, and he has been sanctioned for it.

He just laughed when you told him off, so it doesn't seem he's very worried about more sanctions.
Well, the European Parliament can put economic or administrative sanctions in place, but he can't be fired or forced to resign. Whether he gives up his seat or not depends on him alone. Of course, we could take to the streets to protest his being in the European Parliament, but legally he can't be forced to do anything.

Those comments were made while you were defending wage equality in a session in the European Parliament. What do you think needs to be done to achieve it?
We need general European legislation on equality—that still doesn't exist. Not just on the matter of wage equality, by the way. Every European country has a different definition of domestic violence right now, and therefore a different classification of that crime. We need a common legislation on paternity leave, which should be non-transferrable. And when it comes to salary, we need to set quantifiable goals—to reduce the wage gap by 2 percent every year. If we don't develop legislation, we won't have wage equality until 2086. I think that's a little late.

Do you think all European countries are at about the same level when it comes to women's rights?
I do, and I think we tend to underestimate what southern European countries are doing. Spain, for example, is a pioneer when it comes to criminalizing domestic violence. Northern European countries are an example when it comes to working couples sharing their duties at home. But those countries have welfare states that guarantee more equality—not just in terms of gender, but between all people.

What would you say to people who oppose gender quotas—who think that if men are consistently hired for influential jobs, that just means they're more qualified?
I'd say that unfortunately, quotas are necessary at present—but we're working to create a world where they aren't. Women are dealing with a glass ceiling that prevents us from getting into places of representation. It's just a ridiculous idea that women are structurally not being hired in positions of power and influence just because they're not good enough. Who can honestly believe something like that?

Has being a woman ever closed doors for you?
Of course, like it has for all women. Not as much for me as for women of previous generations or women of different backgrounds. But our society is not egalitarian and that affects me as a woman, for sure.

Can you give me an example of power being taken away from women?
The fundamental problem is that most examples aren't obvious. For example, a lot of important decisions in politics are made during after-work drinks or after-dinner meetings. Women are often excluded from those moments, either because they're not really welcome or because they need to be with their family at those times.

What do women need to do to achieve equality as soon as possible?
I think the best thing for women of all backgrounds is to unite in the political sphere and demand our rights. A lot of that should happen in the European Parliament. At the same time, it's a shame our ideologies divide us in Europe—for example, when it comes to abortion.

What role should men play in the fight for equality?
We need to make all men understand that this fight is a shared one, and that only together we'll be able to reach equality.