Activists participating in the country's biggest ever women's strike tell Broadly why they're walking out of work and shutting down the metro.
Photo by J Casares
Today, to mark International Women’s Day, Spanish feminists are taking to the streets in the country’s first-ever mass women’s strike. Organizers say that the strike will highlight the gender inequality that endures in Spain to this day. It’s a momentous moment for a country in which a culture of male dominance or machista persists, despite the courageous efforts of women’s groups to counter this narrative.
The strike is organized by a coalition of feminist groups under the umbrella of the 8 March Commission. In a manifesto reported by the Guardian, the group said: "Today we call for a society free of sexist oppression, exploitation and violence. We call for rebellion and a struggle against the alliance of the patriarchy and capitalism that wants us to be obedient, submissive and quiet. We do not accept worse working conditions, nor being paid less than men for the same work. That is why we are calling a work strike.”
The strike has gripped national attention in Spain and is backed by ten national trade unions, high-profile politicians, and celebrities. Marches have been taking place in cities including Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Valencia. The unions reported that 5.3 million people followed the two-hour walkout this morning, with many going on to attend protests and marches. As a result, much of Spain’s transport infrastructure has ground to a halt.
300 trains have been cancelled, according to Spain’s transport ministry, and Madrid’s underground network is also affected. Retailers will be affected, as women are being urged not to spend any money to demonstrate how integral female consumers are to the economy.
Two of Spain’s most senior female politicians—the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona—have expressed solidarity with the strikers. “On 8 March my agenda is a women’s agenda. The feminist strike has my full support,” tweeted Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena. Actress Penelope Cruz has shown solidarity with the protesters by cancelling planned public events, and going on “domestic strike,” leaving her partner Javier Bardem to care for their two children.
Whilst the majority of Spanish citizens support the strike—a poll for national newspaper El Pais found that 82 percent approved of the strikers’ motives—some dissenting voices persist. The ruling center-right political party, Partido Popular, criticized the protest as “for feminist elites, and not real women with everyday problems.”
Sonia Jiménez de la Cruz, a feminist activist and gender violence researcher based in Madrid, is one of the women striking today. “There’s so many women of different ages and races,” she tells me over the phone from the protest. “There are mothers, students from the university, and women of all ages and races. It’s so nice to see.”
She’s striking against not only gender inequality, but all forms of injustice—specifically the injustices associated with the worse excesses of capitalism. “Our strike isn’t just about patriarchy, but about all kinds of justice and inequality,” de la Cruz says. She explains that one of the criticisms of the strike is that it’s anti-capitalist in nature: but that the strikers embrace this. “It’s a strategy of Spain’s right wing movement to say we’re anti-capitalist. But of course we’re anti-capitalist. We need to fight against capitalism, as well as patriarchy.”
25-year-old Eva* is also striking today in Madrid. (She has requested a pseudonym because the pro-feminist Twitter account she runs regularly attracts misogynistic abuse.) “I’m striking because here in Spain we suffer sexual harassment every day. We are paid less than men, and we have to fight against patriarchal practices such as FGM.”
I ask whether Eva believes Spain has a particular problem with machista culture. “No,” she responds, emphasizing that the problem is global. “The problem is education. All of us need to learn about equality, and human rights.”