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Women and books, a strengthening alliance

International Women’s Day has been celebrated every 8th March since 1975. During these 24 hours, we visualize the struggle for equality, participation, and empowerment of women in all social spheres for the remaining 364 days of the year.

The data on inequality is evident throughout the world, including Spain, although our country is at the forefront of women’s rights and the fight against gender violence.

Gender equality is precisely one of the pillars on which we based Spain’s project as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2022. Because if there is one sector in which these figures are not so alarming, it is the book sector.

Women are at the top of the reading rates and are the majority in the publishing world and cultural institutions. A generation of female writers reflecting on women’s roles in contemporary society, motherhood, and feminism has emerged on the literary scene in recent years. At the same time, they are awarded for works in all genres and for all ages: essays, novels, theatre, poetry, comics, short stories. They continue along the path marked by their established predecessors and succeed in Spain and abroad.

 As an example, the awards Las Librerías Recomiendan, Grupo Kirico and Zona Cómic 2021 have all gone to female writers, comic authors or illustrators. These awards, granted by the Spanish Confederation of Bookshop Associations and Guilds (CEGAL), include the participation of more than 150 bookshops in Spain that have highlighted “the originality, risk and richness of their voices and proposals”. The award winners were Laura Fernández for her novel La señora Potter no es exactamente Father Christmas (Literatura Random House); Vivian Gornick for the essay Cuentas pendientes (Sexto Piso); Ángela Segovia for the poetry collection Mi paese salvaje (La Uña Rota); Camile Jourdy for the comic Las Varamillas (Astronave), Mónica Rodríguez for Cueto negro (Luez); and Teresa Valero for her comic Contrapaso. Los hijos de los otros (Norma). The Javier Morote Prize, for young authors, also went to a writer, in this case the Mexican Clyo Mendoza for Furia (Sigilo /Almadía).

The percentage of female readers is also positive. According to the Barómetro de Hábitos de Lectura y Compra de Libros en España 2021, created by the Federación de Gremios de Editores de España (FGEE) with the sponsorship of CEDRO and in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Sport, almost 70% of women read in their free time, 10 points higher than the percentage of male readers. This difference holds up in all age groups, except for those aged 65 and over, where the figures are equal. Likewise, there are fewer women than men in the 35.6% of Spaniards who never or rarely read.

The same Barometer reports that traditional bookshops continue to be the preferred places for readers to buy books other than textbooks. And what about the presence of women in these spaces? The answer is in the Bookshop Map, drawn up by the University of Zaragoza, which forms part of the Bookshop Observatory, a project that CEGAL has been carrying out periodically for over ten years with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sport.

With a vast female presence in the business (59.7%), one of the aspects highlighted by Álvaro Manso, spokesman for CEGAL, is the promotion of permanent employment (8,277 permanent employees, of which 4,929 are women) compared to the reduction of temporary employment (1,560 temporary workers).

This female prevalence is evident in another area of literary business. Female executives: Núria Cabutí, CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, and Marta Martínez, CEO and managing director of Grupo Anaya are the heads of two of the three most influential publishing groups in the Spanish and Latin American markets. Moreover, 12 of Penguin’s 19 editorial directors are women the same is true of many other companies in the sector: Planeta, Siruela, La Esfera de los Libros, Maeva.

The country’s most prominent literary agents are also women: Palmira Márquez, Antonia Kerrigan, Raquel de la Concha, Mercedes Casanova, María Lynch… All of them worthy successors of Carmen Balcells, who died in 2015 and created the literary agency to which she gave her name. In the 60 years of her professional career, she represented the works of six Nobel Literature Prize winners: Miguel Ángel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Vicente Aleixandre, Gabriel García Márquez, Camilo José Cela and Mario Vargas Llosa. Women’s leadership in the Spanish publishing industry seems unquestionable. Publishers, imprint directors, marketing and communication managers, translators, agents, readers, designers, booksellers, illustrators are all protagonists of our literary ecosystem.