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Spanish legislation Vote For 'Equality of sexes'

Spain's Socialist government Friday approved a far-reaching draft legislation that would give 40 percent representation to women in political and business bodies and make sexual harassment a punishable offence.//

The law, aimed at achieving complete equality between men and women, would force political parties to have at least 40 percent of women on their electoral lists and companies on their boards of directors, news reports said.

Companies would have to take measures to guarantee the equality of female and male employees.

The law was "the most important for achieving equality after the constitution", said Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, deputy prime minister in the country's first half-female government.

After becoming prime minister in 2004, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero made the equality of the sexes one of his priorities.

The law "goes far beyond what the European Union requires", Fernandez de la Vega said.

If the law is approved by parliament, it will force companies to guarantee equality. Companies with more than 250 employees will have to include such measures in their collective agreements.

Discrimination or sexual harassment could be penalised with fines of up to 90,000 euros ($108,000), according to press reports.

The draft legislation was received positively by trade unions, but criticised by employers who opposed the compulsory nature of the measures.

Spanish women earn about 40 percent less than men on the average, according to a study by the National Statistics Institute.

Every year, 380,000 women leave their jobs to attend to their families, while only 14,500 men do the same.

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