International Women’s Day

Women’s Day marches in Spain attract mass numbers despite coronavirus fears

Although turnout was lower than previous years, tens of thousands of people across the country took to the street to protest for greater gender equality

International Women’s Day march in Madrid.
International Women’s Day march in Madrid.© Luis Sevillano / EL PAÍS

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Spain on Sunday evening to take part in marches called across the country for International Women’s Day. The reasons driving the protest were the same ones that inspired the mass demonstrations of the past two years: gender violence, the gender wage gap, sexism and the burden of non-remunerated work.

Women’s Day marches in Spain (Spanish audio).

The strength of Spain’s feminist movement was just as evident as other years. From Bilbao in the northern Basque Country to the eastern region of Valencia, the streets were filled with people calling for greater gender equality. Turnout, however, was not as high as the 2018 and 2019 demonstrations, given the concerns over the coronavirus and the divisions within the women’s movement with respect to the transgender community.

Despite this, tens of thousands of people still took to the street – an indication that the feminist movement has perhaps the greatest capacity to mobilize, particularly in Spain which has some of the largest women’s marches in Europe. This year, all Spain’s political parties – with the exception of the far-right Vox – attended the demonstrations. Even the conservative Popular Party (PP), which did not attend previous marches, took part in the protest. Members of the center-right Ciudadanos were also present, but had to leave the march in Madrid after they were yelled at by some demonstrators for their dealings with Vox. Ciudadanos and the PP govern in several regional and local governments in Spain thanks to the support of the far-right group, which has used its parliamentary position as kingmaker to push for controversial policies like the so-called “parental veto,” which gives parents the right to stop their children from attending non-curricular classes on issues such as LGBTQ+ rights and teenage pregnancy.

Whoever thinks that we learn from insults and threats, doesn’t know anything at all. Yesterday we went to the march to defend equality between men and women as representatives of the only political party who has a female leader.

The protest in Madrid was once again the largest with 120,000 people marching under the banner “Feminist Revolt. With rights, without barriers. Feminists without frontiers,” according to the central government delegate in the Spanish capital. In Barcelona, the local police estimated that 50,000 people attended the Women’s Day march, a significant drop from the 200,000 in 2019. In Bilbao, there were around 52,000 people, according to local police, a similar figure to the 60,000 in 2019. In the Basque city of Vitoria, 1,000 women came together to form a human chain. In the southern city of Seville, the drop in turnout was more significant. According to the official figures, 16,000 people attended two separate marches, compared to the 50,000 who took to the street in 2019.

Protester in Madrid hold a sign with the message: “I am and will be what I want to be.”
Protester in Madrid hold a sign with the message: “I am and will be what I want to be.”Samuel Sanchez

Demonstrators used the outbreak of the coronavirus to highlight the problem of gender violence. In Madrid, several protesters held up signs with the message: “Sexism kills more than the coronavirus.” In Bilbao, thousands of demonstrators yelled: “The patriarchy kills more than the coronavirus.” And in Valencia, Lola and her husband wore face masks with the message: “Protect yourself from sexism.” Lola, however said, that fear of catching Covid-19 had led to a lower turnout: “There are fewer people than other years and I think that’s why. I just spoke to one of our friends and she told us she is not coming because she is afraid of large gatherings.”

In Madrid, protesters chanted against gender violence, yelling: “We are not alone, the murdered are missing,” and “It’s not an isolated case, it’s the patriarchy.” In Spain, 1,047 women have been murdered by their partners or former partners since 2003, when official records began, and 14 just in 2020.

Another key issue was the gender pay gap. “I am here so that women have the same salary conditions [as men],” said Rafa, who works with Spain’s state-owned rail operator Renfe. According to statistics, women in Spain earn 13% less than men for doing similar jobs, a figure which jumps to 23% when taken as a gross annual figure.

But the protest went beyond gender violence and inequality. Demonstrators also marched for the environment, to end racism, and to stop prostitution and surrogacy.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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