March 8, International Women’s Day, will this year have a special meaning and emotional charge. Women in Spain have been called to observe a 24-hour general strike, or to carry out partial stoppages and take part in protests the world over.
One of the fundamental pillars of the protest is in the workplace, where there is still a significant gap in terms of salary and responsibilities, but also on the domestic front, where inequality in terms of housework and taking care of children or older relatives is even more acute – and that’s not to mention gender violence and sexual harassment, issues that are of particular concern in Spain.
The aim is to transmit a clear message: that we need to bring an end to the discrimination, subordination, harassment and violence that all women suffer just because of their gender. They are fair demands, ones that should have been achieved a long time ago and that cannot be ignored.
There are those who see feminism as an exclusionary ideology, one that’s directed against men. That is a mistake: equality between men and women, which is enshrined in Article 14 of the Spanish Constitution, is the basis of a democratic society, and, as such, sets out a constitutional mandate that binds us all.
Democracy has done a great deal to bring about the end of discrimination against women. But there is still plenty left to do. The achievement of equality requires proposals for concrete action. In terms of work, discrimination in terms of salaries needs to be eradicated; maternity should no longer be an obstacle to being promoted; ghettos of feminized job roles, ones that are precarious and badly paid, must be avoided; and paternity leave should be encouraged among men.
All of this needs new laws, better controls, more transparency, quotas that help to achieve parity in executive roles, as well as the obligation to carry out salary audits and to develop equality and best practices plans in companies.
In the legal sphere, laws and measures against sexist violence are managing to educate society and public powers on the need to effectively protect women. Now is the time to improve the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace and public areas, via punitive measures, but also preventive ones, which will help to make more visible a problem that was, until now, hidden or pushed into the background.
In other areas, however, discrimination finds its origins in deeply rooted cultural and social habits, as much among women as men, and these are not easy to change. Education (within families and schools), the mass media, the world of culture, advertising and fashion are all essential to stop the perpetuation of sexism. This is especially true among young people, where an uptick in sexist, violent and discriminatory attitudes has been seen. Much more work needs to be done in this area in terms of education.
To turn all of these factors around, in the opposite direction from that in which they have been moving up to now, will not be an easy job, nor can it be imposed by government decree. Instead, it needs to count on the active and complicit collaboration of society, something that only a major social and political debate can achieve. Men, whose assistance is essential to bring about an end to sexism, must sign up to these demands, without fear nor excuses. And of course, political parties, unions and business associations must also articulate and define these objectives.
Discrimination against women is based on sexism. Whether it’s an individual, cultural or institutional attitude, whether it is practiced in an individual way or imbued within the political, economic or family structures of our society, it is radically incompatible with democracy. Opposing it is to defend democracy, and is not an ideological or partisan expression. There is not, as such, space for debate on this: it is time to end sexism, harassment and discrimination, in any of its forms.
There is, however, room for the confrontation of ideas and proposals on how to act. As the discussion and debate on the approach and the reach of the activities for March 8 show, feminism is as plural, open, transverse and free as the society that is questioning. Within it there are many different voices and varied proposals for action. All of them need to be listened to, discussed and evaluated.
The equality between men and women that a democratic society aspires to can only be achieved through freedom, individual and collective. Its defense is not ideological nor can it be instrumented: it forms part of the core of values that account for the very heart of our democracies. Nor can it be rejected, ridiculed or ignored. Because the search for equality and the search for freedom are synonymous, one cannot exist without the other. By fighting for the equality of women we will achieve our freedom, as people and as a society, and we will add value to our democracy.
English version by Simon Hunter.