Margaret Hales: President, European Union of Women

Margaret Hales in the Picos de Europa Credit: Margaret Hales

Margaret Hales, one of the most fascinating and inspiring women, lives with her husband in the village of Benitachell, between Javea and Moraira.

Originally from the town of Huddersfield in Yorkshire, Margaret’s formative years were spent in the fifties with her brother, mother, and father.

As a teenager with an insatiable curiosity and a thirst for adventure, she set off to Aberystwyth, driven by her early love for geography and mountains in particular, a passion which has remained with her all her life.

She pursued her studies in Aberystwyth and, serendipitously, met her husband at a conference. The love for geography seems to be a family trait, as one of her granddaughters is now following in her footsteps, having just completed her finals.

Gerald and Margaret were married in 1968 and spent much of their married life living in Milton Keynes, where Gerald was a research fellow at the open university.   Margaret, already a wife and mother, also enjoyed working at the open university on a part-time basis.

Here, she taught social sciences.  She explained, “I just loved being an educator, especially to people who did not necessarily have an academic background but a keen desire to learn and understand more about the world they lived in”.

Her work also led to her teaching inmates at the notorious Wormwood Scrubs prison from within their individual prison cells.   Asked if this had made her nervous, she said, “There was only one prisoner that I was a little scared of.  For the most part, I enjoyed it as I represented a lifeline and a hope for normality and a future.”

Margaret and Gerald were blessed with three children: David, Jennifer, and Christopher. Sadly, Christopher lost his battle with progressive multiple sclerosis three years ago. Despite this heart-wrenching loss, Margaret’s love and pride for him shine through, “He led a remarkably rich life, was married to a Polish lady, a member of the Freemasons, and a writer of books on the Knights Templar.” He was also an animal lover, and Margaret fondly recalls how he befriended a kitten who eventually accompanied them to Spain.

Benitachell – a charming Spanish village

Their move to Spain marked an early retirement, and they have been living here for the past 18 years. Their choice of Benitachell was not made until they had spent many holidays exploring various regions of Spain, staying at friends’ apartments as they did so.

As Margaret enthuses, “Spain is glorious, so travelling around and exploring it is a must. It is not enough to reside in Spain; you need to feel the heartbeat of the country”.  Benitachell won out in the end, as Margaret was seduced by the beautiful views of the mountains and the natural landscape.

Margaret has nothing but good things to say about Spain, and she particularly loves its sense of tradition and how each generation still wants to celebrate its heritage.   Margaret is very big on family and feels that Spain’s values of family and family life align very much with her own.

As is often said by the English, learning the language was the biggest challenge in making a life here.  Not that it got in the way, as Margaret has invested time and money into learning and is now fluent and as much a ‘part of the village’ as possible.

It is no surprise then that the biggest piece of advice that she has for those wishing to move to Spain is to learn the language, and she strongly recommends that lessons be started as part of a moving plan.

What is the European Union of Women?

Despite her official retirement, Margaret’s life remains vibrant. She holds the esteemed position of the President of the European Union of Women (EUW), a role she takes on with great pride. The Union, which now spans 17 member countries, including Spain, is a testament to her leadership and dedication.

In addition, Margaret has also established a branch of the EUW in Marina Alta, the only one where both English and Spanish are spoken at every meeting.

Her involvement in the EUW started in the UK when she was invited to a meeting in 1982.  At the time, she had very little knowledge of what it was about but went along out of curiosity and has played an extremely active role ever since.  So much so that in 1996, she was awarded an MBE by the late Queen Elizabeth II for political service.

She explained, “The European Union of Women was set up in 1953 following two devastating world wars.  Its purpose was for women to achieve peace by increasing female representation within the democratic process.”  She said, “This was not about feminism as the Union very much recognises the need for men and women to work together.  They have complementary ideals and ways of approaching situations, leading to far better outcomes than when men act alone.”

Margaret’s passion, academic background, and drive for change quickly led to her being elected to the role of President of the Education Commission, followed by Vice President of the entire organisation in 2012, before finally being appointed President in 2015; the role she still holds now.

That is not to say that she isn’t thinking about a succession plan; she is, and actually, she already handed the reins over once, only for them to be handed back again on a temporary basis.  That was almost a year ago now.

However, this second tenure has afforded her the opportunity to rewrite the statutes to be more flexible and inclusive.  Respect, love and fellowship drive a desire to work more closely with other organisations and further increase the membership to include Armenia, Ukraine and Portugal.  She would very much like her legacy to be about motivating women of all generations to be enthused about equality.

When not running the Union, she likes nothing more than to spend time gardening.  She readily admits to talking and even shouting at her plants from time to time.  She believes it to be very therapeutic and feels King Charles was definitely on to something!

She also loves taking an active role in the village, spending time with her Spanish friends and utilising technology to stay in close contact with her family.  She has absolutely no regrets about moving to Spain and has so much passion and zest for life that, truly, it’s contagious.

Anyone wishing to learn more about Marina Alta’s European Union of Women branch is invited to join their Facebook Group.

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Written by

Donna Williams

Marketer, copywriter, storyteller and President of Samaritans in Spain. They say variety is the spice of life and I am definitely loving life!