Limited by pandemic restrictions, Spain’s feminist groups hold symbolic acts to celebrate International Women’s Day

Socially distanced protests were held in several cities, while in Madrid people were urged to come out to their balconies and applaud at 8pm

Footage of the protests in Spain for International Women’s Day. Video: ANDREA COMAS
Pilar Álvarez

This International Women’s Day the strength of the women’s movement in Spain could not be measured by the size of the crowds marching through the streets. While in previous years, hundreds of thousands of people have gathered to celebrate the event on March 8, or 8-M as it is known in Spain, this year large-scale marches were not possible due to the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, smaller protests and symbolic acts were held to mark the date.

The reasons to protest, such as the gender wage gap, violence against women and precarious work conditions, have not gone away; indeed they have been exacerbated by the coronavirus health crisis. According to data compiled by the Spanish news agency EFE, the female unemployment rate is 17.4%, compared to 13.8% for men. The pension gap also persists: while women receive an average pension of €858, men receive €1,312. “Spain cannot allow itself to exit this health, economic and social crisis at the expense of women,” said Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero at a closed-door event on Monday that was broadcast live.

Unlike in previous years, Madrid was not the focus of this year’s protests. The central government’s delegate in the Madrid region, José Manuel Franco, banned all 104 requests for different Women’s Day events, on the grounds that such gatherings posed a risk to “public health.” Madrid is the region with the highest coronavirus incidence rate in Spain, with the 14-day cumulative number of cases standing at 236 on Monday, according to the latest Health Ministry report.

Manifestacion 8M
Women’s march in Barcelona. A protester holds a sign reading: ”If only rape disgusted you as much as menstruation.”Albert Garcia

The decision to ban Women’s Day events in Madrid, however, was strongly criticized by women’s groups who argued they were being unfairly targeted. “No one has gone to the Rastro market or the entrance of soccer stadiums [such as Wanda Metropolitano, where large numbers of fans of the soccer team Átletico de Madrid gathered on Sunday] or the Metro to control crowds. They only do it with women,” said Ana Sánchez de la Coba, the equality secretary general at the labor union UGT. Unable to hold events in the street, feminist groups asked women in Madrid instead to applaud from their balconies and windows at 8pm, as was done in tribute to essential workers during the coronavirus lockdown last spring. Women also rode down central streets on bicycles.

In the rest of Spain, women’s groups organized demonstrations, with social distancing and the mandatory use of face masks. In the regions of Valencia, Galicia and Andalusia, for example, dozens of protests were held to demand support for the efforts of “essential workers,” the majority of whom are women. “This year they wanted to silence us but they weren’t able to,” said members of a feminist platform in Málaga who gathered in the center of the southern city.

In San Sebastián, in Spain’s Basque Country, protesters marched down the street in three socially distanced columns under the slogan: “Change everything from feminism.” In Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, women also demonstrated in columns, clapping and singing at a protest in Obradoiro square. And in Catalonia, up to 60 different protests were organized. The main one brought together around 3,600 people under the banner: “Together, diverse and rebellious, we are unstoppable. Always feminists.”

Dia internacional de la Mujer 8M
Women protesting in Valencia on Monday.Mònica Torres

Violence against women

A total of 1,082 women in Spain have been murdered by their partners or former partners since 2003, when official records began. The violence did not stop on International Women’s Day, with a 50-year-old woman in the city of Massamagrell in Valencia left in a critical state after being beaten by her former partner.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Monday that the only way to stop violence against women was to “accelerate the feminist agenda.” Sánchez said that a new law on sexual freedom, known informally as the “only yes is yes law,” would be approved soon. Under the current legislation on sexual violence, rape charges can only be pressed if violence and intimidation were used – an issue that was highlighted in the high-profile sexual assault case known as “La Manada.”

The prime minister also warned of the rise of the far-right party Vox, which denies the existence of gender inequality and gender violence. On Monday, the far-right party requested once again that March 8 be celebrated as a national day to commemorate the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

With reporting by Ferrán Bono, Caridad Bermeo, Marta Pinedo, Cristina Saldaña, Jakub Olesiuk, Emilio Sánchez Hidalgo, Cristina Vázquez, Santiago Cañas, Jesús Cañas, Cristian Segura, Juan Navarro, Mikel Ormazabal, Sonia Vizoso, Ginés Donaire, Nacho Sánchez, Silvia Ayuso and Javier Arroyo.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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