Spain grinds to a halt as millions of women join unprecedented strike for gender equality

Hannah Strange
Women shout slogans during a protest at the Sol square during the International Women's Day in Madrid, Thursday, March 8 - AP

Millions of Spanish women joined an unprecedented nationwide strike on Thursday to call for equality in the workplace and home, an end to macho culture and greater action against gender-based violence.

Called under the slogan “Without us the world stops”, the strike on International Women’s Day saw demonstrations in towns and cities across Spain as well of walkouts of up to 24 hours. Larger marches were also planned for this evening.

Two leading unions, the CCOO and UGT, said that by lunchtime the strike had already been a “great success”, with 5.3 million women across the country joining the first of three two-hour stoppages.

In Madrid, 80 percent of workplaces were observing the strike, they said after a picket at the doors of the city hall in Plaza Cibeles. 

In the Spanish capital, demonstrators marked the start of the strike at midnight on Wednesday with a traditional cacerolazo, the sound of hundreds of banging pots and pans ringing out through the city from the central Puerta del Sol.

In Barcelona, groups of women blockaded several roads Credit: AFP

Pickets cropped up around the city this morning, briefly blocking some of Madrid’s chief traffic routes during the morning rush hour.

Stronger picket lines formed outside faculties at Madrid’s Complutense University, where four containers were also burned in one of the few outbreaks of tension, according to the government’s representative in the city.

In Barcelona, groups of women blockaded several roads, including Gran Via, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, where around 30 protesters stopped traffic for an hour before they were removed by police. 

Public transport was running on a reduced timetable with long delays on some routes and several train services suspended altogether. Protesters also blocked the tracks in some parts of Barcelona, forcing cancellations and the closure of stations.

Protesters form triangles with their hands during a demonstration for women's rights in Bilbao, Spain, March 8, 2018 Credit:  VINCENT WEST/REUTERS

At a midday picket in Barcelona's Plaça Catalunya, Alexandra Pérez de Tudela, a 41-year-old optometrist, said she was protesting against the gender pay gap, the precarious employment conditions that particularly affected female workers, and violence against women. 

"This country has brought us to this, to coming out in the street, it has been asleep, and we have to fight for our futures and those of the people who will come after us," she told The Telegraph.

In Madrid's Plaza Legazpi, Consuelo Muñoz, a 62-year-old who worked as a laboratory assistant and shop worker before ill health forced her to retire, said she was supporting the strike to “break the taboo against women that keeps us in a lower position in society”.

Demonstrators hold placards as the march during a one day strike to defend women's rights on International Women's Day in Barcelona, on March 8 Credit: AFP

She said that young women today had been deceived into believing they could have a career and a family. “We’ve been sold down the river. Society makes it impossible to be a mother as you lose out at work and public assistance is nonexistent.”

The strike was joined by several leading female politicians, such as the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, Manuela Carmena and Ada Colau, and the deputy prime minister, Maria Saenz de Santamaria.

Thousands of female journalists also participated, including the well-known presenter Ana Rosa Quintana, whose regular morning programme on Telecinco was replaced by a special broadcast.

International Women's Day

The scale of the strike appeared to have unnerved Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose Popular Party had rejected it as confrontational.

He appeared on Thursday wearing the purple ribbon of the March 8 movement, insisting he would "keep working in defence of real equality between men and women without sparing any effort".

Women Mean Business: A call to action