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The Spanish Race and Ethnic Equality Council in the spotlight

September 1st 2010
One year ago the Spanish Race and Ethnic Equality Council was created. Chaired by José Manuel Fresno (pictured left), senior expert on equality and Roma policies, this new equality body is ascribed to the Ministry of Equality. The Council currently has 28 members from a variety of organizations dealing with race & ethnic non-discrimination policies (national, regional and local public administrations; trade unions; enterprises associations; NGOs).
In January 2010, the Council started implementing its first action plan. In July, it launched its Network of Assessment and Advice offices throughout Spain and expects to have its website ready beginning of October. Although this initiative is still fairly new and weak in terms of development (it only deals with discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnic origin), it seeks to progressively consolidate its services and structure into a broader equality body. Taking into account the progress made during the year, José Manuel Fresno gives us an insight into the priorities for the short- and medium-term.


1. What do you think are the most urgent discrimination issues in Spain that your institution is facing nowadays? Racism, xenophobia, anti-Roma attitudes or other?

2. Taking into account this context, what are the priorities and objectives of the Council for this year?

3. How aware are citizens in your country about the role of your equality body? Are there any specific obstacles in gaining the trust of vulnerable groups in Spain? What actions are you undertaking to build this awareness?

4. Approximately how many complaints concerning discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnic origin do you expect to deal with this year?

5. How does the Council build its relations with stakeholders?

6. How do you see the impact of the economic downturn on equality and on your work in Spain?

7. Can you assess to what extent and how Equinet is helping your equality body? Is it giving an added value to your functioning?

8. What will be your major projects and initiatives planned in 2011?


1. What do you think are the most urgent discrimination issues in Spain that your institution is facing nowadays? Racism, xenophobia, anti-Roma attitudes or other?

According to the Eurobarometer “Discrimination in the EU 2009”, citizens in Spain consider discrimination based on ethnic origin to be the most widespread in their country. In fact, one third of the respondents of the survey consider that having a different ethnic background puts people at a disadvantage position when looking for a job. Several studies (National Barometer, Spanish Observatory on Racism and Xenophobia) confirm this: more than 50% of respondents of the National Barometer consider that discrimination based on ethnic and racial origin is frequent or very frequent.

Although Spain doesn’t consider itself a racist or xenophobic society, there has been a raise in the past years, especially since the beginning of the financial crisis, of xenophobic and racist attitudes from certain groups associated with sports, music and social networks on the internet. In fact, the Raxen report 2010 reveals that groups, platforms or political parties close to far right movements are gaining relevance within society by organizing demonstrations and using internet as a means to disseminate propaganda against immigration and diversity and justifying hate, discrimination, violence, racism and intolerance. Some target people from a different ethnic or racial background, whereas others target the Roma community; it is difficult to know what is more frequent: racism, xenophobia, etc. The main issues the Council is facing are the lack of consistent data around discrimination and a lack of awareness from society, especially from vulnerable groups in regards to their rights in cases of being discriminated against.

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2. Taking into account this context, what are the priorities and objectives of the Council for this year?

As 2010 is the Council’s first year of activities, the plenary agreed to concentrate its efforts in two directions:

1) Strengthening and developing the Network of Assessment and Advice Offices for victims of discrimination throughout Spain by:

- Providing professional one-to-one assessment and advice services to victims of discrimination.
- Organising high-quality training to equality and non-discrimination professionals at all levels (public administrations, trade unions, companies, NGOs, etc.).
- Creating a Network of Legal Practitioners.
- Developing and strengthening the Council’s four working groups: 1) Assistance to victims; 2) Legislation; 3) Studies and reports; 4) Communication and awareness-raising.

2) Designing and implementing a comprehensive information and awareness-raising strategy targeted at (potential) victims as well as equality and non-discrimination professionals, focusing their efforts on:

- The development of a digital communication strategy through the Council’s website, through which we will give updated information on policy development, best practices, advice on what to do when someone is discriminated against, etc.
- Disseminating the results of what will be the first annual panel on perceptions, situations and experiences by (potential) victims of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnic origin and the first annual report on discrimination in Spain.

In addition to these 2 strands of work, the Council wants to gradually develop its management structure and funding sources as well as its institutional relationships with stakeholders to build a strong and independent body able to help victims in their experiences of discrimination but also to be able to show to society the benefits of diversity, tolerance and integration

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3. How aware are citizens in your country about the role of your equality body? Are there any specific obstacles in gaining the trust of vulnerable groups in Spain? What actions are you undertaking to build this awareness?

According to the National Barometer 2008, two thirds of the population is unaware of their rights should they be victims of discrimination and have very little knowledge of the existence of equality bodies. In addition, according to the Eurobarometer 2009, only 18% of respondents would turn to an equality body after being discriminated against, preferring instead to turn to trade unions or associations (probably due to a lack of knowledge about EBs in Spain). As indicated by several NGOs, vulnerable groups are frequently sceptical about trusting public authorities and the judicial system as their experience with these institutions when making a claim has failed in many cases. For this reason, our strategy to reach vulnerable groups and gaining their trust is to build an effective channel of communication. The working group dealing with this topic is focusing on:

- Going digital: through the Council’s website we will attempt to reach (potential) victims of discrimination as well as professionals working in this field.
- Going local and in partnership: through the network of assessment and advice offices created with seven NGOs and one trade union that have experience in either dealing with cases of discrimination or dealing with target groups, we hope to achieve a double objective: working in partnership with organizations that work and are in contact with (potential) victims at the same time as reaching the target group at local level.

By combining a digital approach with a local partnership the Council expects to reach those (potential) victims that are familiar with new technologies at the same time as reaching people who prefer one-to-one contact, through our local offices.

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(logo) Spanish Race Equality Council (Click to enlarge picture)

4. Approximately how many complaints concerning discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnic origin do you expect to deal with this year?

Since the launch of the Network of Assessment and Advice Offices in July, several cases have been put brought to our service in relation to a variety of matters (employment, access to services, etc.). By the end of the year we expect to handle a minimum of 160 cases, which will be dealt with under a protocol we have drafted to deal with cases of discrimination. This will then be reported to the Council’s plenary by the end of the year. This will be an excellent opportunity to analyse what types of discrimination are more frequent and what are the more effective strategies to deal with them.

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5. How does the Council build its relations with stakeholders?

Working with stakeholders has been a top priority since the creation of the Council: the board is comprised of organizations from a variety of stakeholders (public administration, trade unions, companies, NGOs…) that are at the same time participating in the different working groups. This approach has been successful at involving the key stakeholders in the Council’s activities in its first year.

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6. How do you see the impact of the economic downturn on equality and on your work in Spain?

Since the Council was constituted only a year ago, it is too early to assess the impact of the crisis on our work. However, organizations and public institutions working in the field of equality and non-discrimination are having to deal with several difficulties such as funding cuts and an increase of racist attitudes towards immigrants and ethnic minorities. Our challenge as an equality body is to convince society that designing and implementing integration and diversity policies is more effective than developing policies based on fear and deportations.

Spanish Council (detailed Equinet profile)
Spanish Council (detailed Equinet profile)

7. Can you assess to what extent and how Equinet is helping your equality body? Is it giving an added value to your functioning?

As a newly created body, being a member of Equinet is crucial to our work from different perspectives. On one hand, it is a great opportunity for our organization to network with other equality bodies but also to learn and receive training regarding the latest developments of legislation or court cases. Being able to share and compare information, knowledge and experiences with other equality professionals in Europe is vital, especially when policy issues and challenges are shared by several countries. Through Equinet’s activities (training, seminars, reports and publications), national equality bodies can come together to develop consistent views and arguments against discriminatory or racists discourses, which can give them a strengthened political role at both European and national level.

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8. What will be your major projects and initiatives planned in 2011?

In 2011 we hope to consolidate and strengthen this year’s action plan with the view to deal with a larger number of complaints. We expect to enlarge the Network of Assessment and Advice offices to be able to reach the different vulnerable groups more easily. At the same time, we want to reinforce our information and communication strategy to ensure that (potential) victims but also society as a whole increases their awareness on what to expect if you discriminate and what to do if you are a victim of discrimination.

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Photo of the Council's staff members  (Click to enlarge picture)
Many thanks to Jose Manuel Fresno and Alia Chahin for their responses.