Spain is facing unprecedented times. Last year, the failure to convict nine men of the gang rape of an 18 year old woman by giving them the lesser charge of sexual abuse caused thousands of furious women to take to the streets in protest. It sparked the country’s own #MeToo movement, with millions sharing their personal tales of abuse on social media using the hashtag #cuentalo (tell it).
Meanwhile, the populist party Vox has become the first far right party to win seats in government since the death of dictator Franco in 1975. The party has become known for its antifeminist stance due to its inflammatory rhetoric (in January this year, during a TV interview party leader Santiago Abascal made the astounding claim that 87% of complaints of domestic violence were unfounded, when in reality only 0.01% are false and its policies, which include repealing gender violence laws and getting rid of subsidised “radical feminist groups.”
What’s clear is that women’s rights have become a hotly debated topic. “The way the subject is approached has changed” says Gemma Cernuda, author of Ellas Deciden (Women Decide). “Now it’s something that you talk about. You can hear about it on the streets, in bars, and on buses, everyone is talking about it and has an opinion. It’s on the agenda.”
The rise of Vox has been something of a wake up call, she says. “It means we won’t relax. Suddenly you realise that there are people who believe men have to control women, or women have to stay at home and can’t wear certain clothes because they’re provocative.”
“Most people are more open-minded, but when you see political parties like Vox and people following them, you think “wow, have we been sleeping?””
Gemma says Vox has gained popularity because a certain section of the Spanish population felt they were not accounted for by the Popular Party (PP), the right wing party that was most recently in power from 2011 to 2018, when it came to light it had received illegal funding since 1999. It has become one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals, with the former treasurer of the party jailed for 33 years. A week later Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was ousted with a no confidence vote, after which he resigned.
The case inevitably caused the party to plummet in elections – last Sunday’s (April 28) vote saw the party win just 66 seats compared to the Socialist Party’s (PSOE) 123. It also helped Vox gain 24 seats in government after a campaign that waged war on multiculturalism and immigration alongside feminism.
“The women’s march on March 8th was huge. It was a way to show the world that we are here, and we are here to stay”
Gemma runs Ellas Deciden (Women Decide), a communications firm that helps brands avoid stereotypes and be more women-friendly, “so not using pink because it’s for women” she says with a laugh.
The events of last year have galvanised the corporate sector too, and she says it’s a good time for her work because #MeToo has made companies realise they must take women seriously as consumers. However she is concerned many are merely jumping on the bandwagon. “It’s good that we have got here, but it has to be done with authenticity. A lot of companies that have been created in the last year have been about everything female – female leaders, female sports, female politicians, not because they are experts or because they really believe in it. It’s very good that female power is on the agenda and that we are asking for it, but I don’t like companies being created because it’s what the market is asking for.”
“I don’t want to say it’s all wrong” she adds, “but it has to have integrity. We have to really understand who was before us, who the pioneers are. Let’s work with them. Let’s make the cake big.”
If 2018 proved anything, it’s that Spain’s women are a force to be reckoned with. “The women’s march on March 8th was huge, and it was a way to show the world that we are here, and we are here to stay” Gemma says. “We still have a lot to do when it comes to women as CEOs and executives, and women in STEM, but in political terms Spain is actually a pioneering country in that it has more female ministers and women in government.”
After last week’s election there are now 164 women sitting alongside 186 men in the Congress, making this the sixth highest proportion of women in government in the world, and the second highest in Europe. Vox may have got their foot in the door for now, riding on a wave of populism and disillusion with the Popular Party, but the country’s women are hardly waiting in the wings.