International Women's Day
Society 09/03/2021

Women demand their rights in the streets despite the pandemic

Few people took part in the feminist strike

4 min
Some of the participants in the feminist protest on Monday in Barcelona

BarcelonaThe rain with which the day started and fear of contagion were not inviting prospects for a demonstration. In spite of this, thousands of women went out on the streets this Monday to demand their rights in several localities of Catalonia. They have been atypical protests, with limited capacity and trying to keep a safe distance. The feminist strike called to coincide with the commemoration of International Women's Day has also been atypical, not to say almost non-existent: very few people have taken part. In sectors with a high percentage of women workers, such as compulsory education or health, participation barely reached 1%. On the other hand, where it has been successful has been among secondary education students: 90% of students have gone on strike, according to sources from the Sindicat d'Estudiants dels Països Catalans.

In Barcelona, the collective Vaga Feminista, organiser of the protest, has made an effort to try to keep the participants at a safe distance. "We do it to follow the recommendations of Procicat but also to take care of each other," said a member of this collective and of Ca la Dona, Dolo Pulido, before the start of the rally. To participate you had to register in advance and the maximum capacity was limited to about 3,600 people, so that many women have been unable to participate, said Pulido.

The protest was static, that is, it was not a march but a rally that took place along the entire Passeig de Gràcia, from Avinguda Diagonal to Gran Via. However, the road was divided into eight different sections - six reserved only for women and two mixed - and each participant knew in which section they had to stand. Crosses were even drawn on the ground to indicate the exact place where each person had to stand in order to keep the safety distance. But one thing is theory and another is practice.

A section of Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona where few people turned up

The stretches were respected, but people gathered in the places where there was animation, or music. The result was that there were metres and metres of Passeig de Gràcia where there was almost nobody and others where there were so many people that it was difficult to walk. And, logically, the safety distance was hardly respected. According to sources from the Guardia Urbana, the planned capacity was exceeded and there were 4,500 people.

Each section has worked quite independently, so that each one seemed a different demonstration. For example, while one section held a minute's silence to remember the women victims of male violence, in another demonstrators danced to the rhythm of the drums.

Moment in which some protestors used their phone flashlights as a sign of protest

There was no main banner and protestors were asked not to carry large banners in groups to avoid contagion. However, there were many individual banners, some with classic slogans like "Stop aggressions against women" and others with more inventive messages: "If you don't understand the reason for the protest, it's because you are part of the problem".

The rally had a unitary slogan, "Together, diverse and rebellious, we are unstoppable! Always feminists!", and a long manifesto with an endless battery of demands for women's rights, such as the repeal of the law on foreigners, decent pensions for all or Social Security to also cover for domestic workers.

Pepper spray attack

The protest ended with an incident: a man entered one of the non-mixed sections of the rally and, after the organisers asked him several times to leave, he pepper-sprayed five women, who had to be attended by the emergency service. The aggressor has been detained by agents of the Guardia Urbana and has been charged with a minor injury offense, according to City Hall sources.

On the other hand, in Madrid, the Constitutional Court has decided this morning to maintain the ban on demonstrating. The unions UGT and CCOO had asked the court to lift the ban as a precautionary measure, but the court has declined. Even so, through instant messaging applications a surprise action has been prepared in the centre of the Spanish capital and dozens of feminists have demonstrated in the Plaza Neptuno. They have sat on the ground keeping the security distance and, after reading a manifesto, the National Police has identified two women in an attempt to find out who called for this unauthorised mobilization, reports Ot Serra from Madrid.

Panoramic view of the feminist demonstration on Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona

The feminist strike of 8-M in Catalonia has had a low incidence and minimum services for essential sectors have been met, according to sources from the Department of Labour. The fact that the big unions, CCOO and UGT, did not call the strike as in previous years has lowered participation. The strike has been called by minority trade union organisations, such as Intersindical CSC, IAC or CGT.

According to the director of SME Organisation Pimec's labour area, Josep Ginesta, participation in the companies has been "testimonial". Ginesta believes this was "conditioned by the context of pandemic and because the strike was not supported by the two major unions". In addition, this expert indicates that the Women's Day is changing "perhaps to be more vindictive and a defence of value rather than a confrontational strike".

Participation in the feminist strike

In public transport, where the minimum services were set at 85% of the service, the strike has had the greatest impact on the metro, with an incidence of 8%. In the rest of public transport services, such as buses, Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat and Cercanías de Renfe, the follow up of the stoppage has been very low, between 0.4% and 1.35%, according to the same sources.

One of the clearest indicators of how a strike affects the production system is the energy demand. According to the Govern, the energy demand has not fallen this Monday, but has even been higher than last Monday. Endesa sources have indicated that until 10 am demand was 2.9% higher than last Monday, and in the stretch from 10 to 16 hours has been even higher, 3.4% more.

In other essential services, such as health or compulsory education, the strike has also been minimal, since in most cases it has not exceeded 1%. According to the Department of Labour, the most intense participation in these essential services has been in public education, with 1.9%. In universities, the follow-up has been higher, but unequal and difficult to assess, since due to the pandemic many classes are still being taught online. University students have staged several demonstrations in the morning, the two most important in Barcelona, where about 600 people have participated, and that had been called by the Sindicat d'Estudiants dels Països Catalans (SEPC) and the Sindicat d'Estudiants (SE).