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Strike, protests as Spain marks International Women’s Day

For the second year running, Spanish women went on strike for International Women’s Day, with several protests demanding equality on Friday in what has become a hot topic ahead of next month’s election.

The two-hour stoppage was organised by Spain’s two largest unions, while smaller unions pushed for a 24-hour strike.

“If we stop, the world stops,” read one of the main slogans.

Ahead of the strike, hundreds pledged to take part, among them nuns, prominent journalists and other workers, including Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, with the aim of recreating a two-hour work stoppage that on the same day in 2018.

Thousands of people around the world were marking International Women’s Day on Friday with flowers, marches, demonstrations and protests in a bid to raise awareness about gender-based inequality and violence.

Earlier, demonstrators packed the streets of Barcelona, blocking a major thoroughfare as they marched, some wearing purple wigs — a colour long associated with gender equality.

Other rallies were to take place later in the day, in Madrid, Barcelona and elsewhere.

– ‘Feminist Spain’ –

With snap elections looming on April 28, women’s rights have become a major theme for both the left and the right, with everyone pledging a fight against inequality.

European Union figures show the gender pay gap in Spain stands at 14.2 percent, two points below the bloc’s average.

And gender violence continues to take a deadly toll, with 47 women killed by their partners or ex-partners last year — raising to 975 the number female victims since 2003, government figures show.

“I’m on strike for all those who can’t go on strike today, for those of us who have had to put up with lots of humiliation and harassment in work and in education,” said Marta Horcas, a 30-year-old graphic designer.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who has made women’s rights one of the central themes of his campaign, said he wanted “a feminist Spain”.

“Only with feminism will we end violence against women and achieve real equality,” he wrote on Twitter.

Even the national police weighed in, saying Thursday it was working on a “non-sexist language guide” for its officers.

– Dissenting voices –

But there were also an increasing number of dissenting voices, with the conservative Popular Party accusing the left of appropriating feminism to get more votes.

In Madrid, Carmen Cibiriain, a 71-year-old retiree, said the issue was being used for the politicians’ own ends.

“When I hear them say that feminism is liberal, or that it’s anti-capitalist, it isn’t. It’s equality,” she said.

The far-right has pledged to make the fight against “radical feminism” a priority.

And the deeply-conservative “Women of the World Global Platform” a Spanish initiative which groups like-minded associations from around the world, has called its own rally in Madrid on Sunday.

And the aim? “To affirm femininity, the value of motherhood and dedication to the family and… to show our sincere affection, admiration and gratitude to our dear men,” its website says.

Another ultra-conservative association has been driving around in a bus emblazoned with the slogan “#StopFeminazis” and a picture of Hitler in pink lipstick.

Anna Bosch, a journalist at Spain’s TVE state television — which did not air several Friday programmes due to the strike — said women had mobilised following a series of controversial court cases last year.

One involved the sentencing of five men who were accused of gang-raping a teenager in 2016 for sexual abuse rather than rape.

What had motivated women this year, was the rise in prominence of “positions that are clearly backwards,” she told AFP.