Madrid, March 3: Spain’s left-wing government approved a bill on Tuesday that would qualify all non-consensual sex as rape, acting on a pre-election promise to strengthen laws in defence of women’s rights.

The draft law, which faces months of debate in parliament, seeks to establish specialised courts for dealing with sexual offences and round-the-clock recovery centres for victims. It would increase jail penalties for work-related sexual harassment to up to two years and make catcalling a criminal offence.

Combating gender violence has been high on Spain’s political agenda since its women’s rights movement was galvanised by the 2016 ‘Wolf Pack’ trial, in which five men referring to themselves by that name were jailed for sexual abuse after gang-raping a young woman at the Pamplona bull-running festival.

Mass protests against that conviction, which attracted international attention in the wake of the global #MeToo movement highlighting abuse and mistreatment of women, led to an appeal in 2019 in which the Supreme Court ruled that the men had committed rape.

“Spain will be a safer country for women with the approval of this law,” Equality Minister Irene Montero told a news briefing. “Women’s rights and sexual freedoms will never again be stranded down a blind alley.”

The Socialist-led coalition government announced the bill’s approval in the run-up to Sunday’s International Women’s Day, and rallies in Spain this weekend to mark it.

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