The International Women's Day protest in Madrid, Spain today AP/PA Images
Women's Rights

'Unacceptable sexist behaviour': Spanish women stage unprecedented strike for rights

Women earn 14.9% less than men in Spain.

SPAIN MARKED INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day today with an unprecedented strike in defence of their rights that saw hundreds of trains cancelled and countless protests held.

Called by 10 unions to demand gender equality, particularly where salaries are concerned, the 24-hour strike dominated headlines with famous female presenters noticeably absent from radio or television shows.

Feminist groups have also called on women not to spend money, particularly on items such as deodorant whose versions created for women often cost more.

Spain’s two main unions – the CCOO and UGT – were not part of the grouping that called the 24-hour strike but asked their members to stop work for just two hours today.

They estimated that 5.3 million people had observed the short stoppage.

The strike is attempting to emulate Iceland’s 1975 work shutdown when women took a day off in October to demonstrate their vital contribution to the country’s economy and society.

Ana Reyes, a 37-year-old PR executive, said she was striking “in the hope that the importance of half of the population will be recognised and that it will bring about a real change”.

She told AFP the action gave “visibility to the malaise and discrimination we women suffer”.

Spain International Women's Day Dozens of protests are being held across Spain against wage gap and gender violence AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

The strike comes as countries around the world mobilise for #InternationalWomensDay, a worldwide trending topic on Twitter, and comes hot on the heels of #MeToo and #Timesup campaigns that went global with allegations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood.

Countless sarcastic memes circulated on social media and mobile messaging apps, with one video showing a man desperately trying to start a vacuum cleaner, pulling at the retractable plug cable like he would power up a lawnmower.

Spain fights hard

Spain is a leading country in the fight for women’s rights and against gender violence, even though much remains to be done.

In 2004, for instance, the then Socialist government approved a law on violence against women that the European Council has upheld as an example to follow.

The groundbreaking legislation set up a hotline that would not appear on users’ phone bills, offered free legal aid and established special courts for victims.

Last year, though, 49 women died at the hands of their partners or ex-partners, an increase on 2016 when 44 were killed, official statistics show.

Women earn 14.9% less than men in Spain, slightly better than the EU average of 16.2%, according to the bloc’s statistics agency Eurostat.

Official data also show that more women leave their job when they have children than men.

Protest for the International Women's Day in Malaga, Spain - 8 March 2018 A women's strike being held in Malaga, Spain today Jesus Merida Jesus Merida

It was not yet clear how many Spaniards went on the 24-hour strike, but trains on the Madrid and Barcelona undergrounds were less frequent than usual.

Meanwhile, more than 300 intercity and long-distance trains were cancelled throughout Spain.

Deputy PM speaks out

High-profile women politicians have also spoken out strongly against inequalities.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria today spoke of the discrimination she has suffered: “When you’re a woman and you take on certain responsibilities… you realise that there are still many things that need changing because even as deputy prime minister you experience unacceptable sexist behaviour.”

Famous actresses such as Penelope Cruz and Rossy de Palma are also striking, with Cruz cancelling planned events and letting her partner Javier Bardem take care of their two children.

Barcelona’s city hall, led by Mayor Ada Colau, hung up a purple banner reading “Barcelona city hall supports the feminist strike”.

On Madrid city hall, also led by a woman mayor, Manuela Carmena, banners read “Now is the time for real equality” and “Now is the time to end gender violence”.

© – AFP 2018

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