Women across Spain are taking part in an unprecedented strike aimed at demanding effective equality between men and women. The leading unions said that 5.3 million people had followed the two-hour workplace walkouts throughout the morning.
While 170 countries are planning public protests on March 8, International Women’s Day, Spain is the only one to be staging a general strike backed by the unions. According to a Metroscopia survey for EL PAÍS, 82% of Spaniards feel that a feminist strike is justified.
“If we stop, the world stops” is the slogan of the strike, which is already being felt in healthcare, consumption, transportation and media organizations. There are also 120 street demonstrations planned throughout the day.
Catalonia was feeling the effects of the protests in the morning, when traffic on the C-58 and N-II roads, in Terrassa and Premià de Dalt, was temporarily halted due to a street march. The police were called in to stop protesters from cutting off central thorougfares in Barcelona, where picketing groups managed to temporarily bring key parts of the city to a standstill.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau backed the strike.
"Today is a historic day for women, for democracy, for feminism. We've said enough."
The walkout also received public support from Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena. “The goal has been achieved,” she tweeted shortly after noon. “It’s not just about demanding real equality, but about facing the need to change the relationship of the world and women. It is feminism. The world needs feminisms.”
Early on Thursday, there was a notable female absence on some radio stations, such as Cadena SER. Prominent TV talk show hosts also backed the walkout, including Ana Rosa Quintana, who cancelled her Thursday program on Spanish network Telecinco.
Students protested at college campuses across Spain. In Madrid, hundreds marched at Complutense University, where officials noted that “with the aim of maintaining the spirit of the March 8 feminist strike, no female employee will be assigned to cover essential services.”
Freelance workers, however, were overwhelmingly at their jobs, according to the National Federation of Self-Employed Workers ATA, which reported “no” strike action whatsoever in retail, hospitality, agriculture and transportation. There are over 1.1 million self-employed women in Spain, according to ATA.
The stoppage is the brainchild of Comisión 8M, a group of around 400 members of various feminist associations who met for a weekend in mid-January in Zaragoza to hammer out the proposal.
While feminist groups have asked only women to stop working in order to underscore how their absence affects every aspect of everyday life, the unions were legally obliged to include both men and women in their call for strike action. The majority unions UGT and CC OO are supporting two-hour strikes, while smaller unions like CGT and CNT back a 24-hour stoppage.
Organizers say they are feeling overwhelmed by the show of support. “There was a need, and we have connected with it, and it is expanding on a daily basis,” says María Álvarez, a member of Comisión 8M. “We women are tired: we have a double working day, we don’t have the same pay or conditions, and caregiving falls to us.”
Closing the pay gap is one of the demands that features high on today’s agenda. According to a new research project by the Foundation of Applied Economic Studies (Fedea), women in Spain earn around 13% less than men for similar tasks. Women also have a harder time accessing the job market, and when they do, they are more likely to be offered more precarious contracts and worse conditions.
“We cannot keep resigning ourselves to equality on paper, we want a structural transformation,” said Marisa Soleto, director of the feminist non-profit Fundación Mujeres. Despite the laws, “we have maintained social patterns that prevent women from enjoying their rights.”
Minimum services are guaranteed in essential sectors such as education, where public school principals and other top officials have an obligation to report to work. In healthcare, services vary by the region, depending on whether there was an agreement between the unions and regional officials.
As for public transit, authorities are guaranteeing 50-75% of regular service on commuter train lines, 65% on inter-regional lines, and 72% on high-speed and long-distance lines. Air transportation is also affected, with only 36% to 65% of regular activity guaranteed on domestic flights and 56% on outbound flights.
Professional groups of journalists, scholars, health workers, scientists, non-profit workers, athletes and lawyers have all produced manifestos demanding progress. “This is a wake-up call so all their talent and qualifications will be taken into account,” says Soledad Murillo, who was a secretary of state between 2004 and 2008, when Spain passed an Equality Law.
Whatever happens on Thursday, it is just the first step, say strike organizers. “We don’t see this as a one-day thing, but as a process,” notes Ruth Caravantes Vidriales, another member of Comisión 8M. “We are not going to stop here,” adds María Álvarez. “This process makes us feel strong, and reinforces the idea that mobilizing is the way forward.”
English version by Susana Urra.