From Macho to Matriarchy: Spain’s New Feminist Wave
THIS SUMMER, “feminism takes one step forward, the patriarchy one step back,” could become Spain’s next hit song. Spanish feminists are no longer creating a wave, but have generated a tsunami, spurred on by Comisión 8M, which is uniting several feminist organizations that have sprung up across the country under one roof. Nevertheless, its main mantra is to let each of these groups do its thing.
“There is a common manifesto that we agreed on in 2018,” says one of the members of Comisión 8M. “But we don’t impose it, we are just a tool for organizations to get stronger.” Founded by people from different political, social and educational backgrounds, the Comisión 8M has no designated spokespersons or leaders at the national level, just activists with a common belief that they are equal and share a common goal. Together, they have organized strikes—on work, household tasks, classes—and boycotts of household products on International Women’s Day, celebrated every year on the 8th of March. “If we stop, the world stops,” they say.
Though Spain has a strong feminist history, the modern movement was kickstarted when the former Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón oversaw a reform of abortion laws in 2014, making them more restrictive. “The law sparked a new type of feminism with a different approach,” says Comisión 8M. “While there have been other international movements calling for strikes and a new form of feminism, in 2017 it finally started to come together in Spain.
“But we very much keep in mind other movements, like the ‘Black Protests’ in Poland or the mobilizations in Latin America, and learn from them. Feminism is not something we have invented in Spain,” they clarify.
According to official estimates, 170,000 people joined street protests in Madrid when the first nationwide women’s strike for gender equality was called in 2018. Sister demonstrations were also held in over 200 other Spanish cities. The success of the mobilization was huge, with many women journalists using hashtags like #LasPeriodistasParamos (“female journalists stop”) to give the campaign additional visibility.
Encouraged by last year’s overwhelming response, Comisión 8M set its sights on International Women’s Day 2019. And indeed, they came, saw and conquered, with 350,000 people protesting in Madrid, 200,000 in Barcelona and 50,000 in Seville. This proved to be a testimony to the movement’s cross-sectoral and cross-generational character. It not only mobilized teenagers and young professionals, but also their mothers and grandmothers.
Moreover, support for the movement keeps growing. “This feminist movement is proof that there is a whole machinery ready to be put to use for healthier, sisterhood-based societies,” says Paula Bravo, 26, a supporter who declares herself as a feminist “without any doubt.” Pilar Sánchez, 55, also a supporter of the feminist movement, says that she’s delighted that such a big social earthquake is shaking up her country. “It is very important that women keep fighting for equality as they always have,” she says. “We have fought really hard for our rights, so these protests are even more important, now that some parties want to take us back to the past,” adds Juani, 58.
But a recent report from the World Economic Forum states that worldwide gender equality will not be achieved for another 200 years. It found that women earn 13% less while doing the same job as men. Jobs like working at home, and other chores like childcare, are neither recognized nor remunerated. Moreover, according to data released by the Spanish government, gender-based violence is still a pressing issue. In Spain, 15 women have so far been murdered in 2019, and social rights like abortion or protection against gender-based violence are threatened by the rise of conservative and far-right parties like the Popular Party or Vox. But many Spanish women have decided they will not tolerate this anymore. “Our pussy, our rules,” is their motto.
“Feminism aspires to become a way of life that articulates everything,” the Comisión 8M explains. “An increasing number of women across the world are participating and politicians should listen to that, if they are really committed.” They add that there is still learning to do, because “we come from a sexist, patriarchal society and need to walk down a path to get rid of these attitudes.” But the good news, they say, is that there is no backing down from feminism. “Once you put the violet glasses on, you never take them off.”
For 2020, they aim to continue attracting more women to the cause, including making inroads among those who are currently skeptical of the movement. “When you bring up the central importance of things like raising children, or doing household chores, you break up the discourse that accuses feminists of being violent extremists,” they explain. “These are things that are common to all of us, and so you don’t have to explain them because every woman can see herself in those situations.”
There is one chant that echoes through the streets of cities all over Spain, promising that the violet wave of feminism is here to stay: “Abajo el patriarcado que va a caer, que va a caer. Arriba el feminismo que va a vencer, que va a vencer,” or “Down with the patriarchy, which soon will fall. Up with feminism, which soon will prevail.”
This article appears in Are We Europe #4: This Is Not An Elections Issue