It is the first time that a far-right party has won representation in a Spanish regional parliament since the country returned to democracy after the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
“What they want is a sudden stop in the advance of women’s rights. We will not take a step backwards,” veteran Spanish feminist Ana Maria Perez del Campo told a news conference on Wednesday.
Vox initially demanded the scrapping of tough laws protecting women from gender violence in return for its crucial support for a coalition government in Spain’s most populous region made up of the conservative Popular Party (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos.
It argues that measures to fight gender violence are “ideological” and “discriminatory” against men.
The condition sparked outrage and it was ultimately dropped under an agreement Vox reached with the PP.
But Maria Silvestre, a sociology professor at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, said Vox had sent the message that “we are the right which wants to change things.”
“All the advances of recent years… they want to reverse,” she told AFP.
Formed in late 2013 by disgruntled PP members, Vox wants the national health service to cease paying for abortions and an end to “subsidised radical feminist associations”.
Around 50 women are killed each year in Spain by their partner or former partner and there has long existed cross-party consensus on measures to fight violence against women.
The Spanish parliament in 2004 unanimously passed Europe’s first law specifically cracking down on gender-based violence that offered free legal aid and established special courts for victims.
Vox “have ensured that something that was not discussed is once again being debated,” Silvia Claveria, a political science professor who specialises in feminism at the Carlos III University in Madrid, told AFP.
Silvestre said there was “clearly” a “reaction” to the feminist movement, which marked International Women’s Day in March with an unprecedented strike targeting gender inequality that was followed by over five million women and massive street protests across Spain.
The case of a group of five men dubbed “the pack” accused of gang raping a woman at Pamplona’s famous bull-run in 2016 has also sparked repeated protests and fuelled Spain’s own version of the #MeToo movement.
The men were found guilty of sexual abuse rather than the more serious offence of rape, sparking a debate over Spain’s sexual offences legislation.
Women have also seen gains in politics as well over the past year.
The cabinet which Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez appointed after he took office in June has nearly twice as many women as men in ministerial posts, with women holding key portfolios like economy and justice.
“Every time there are advances in terms of women’s rights, there is a significant patriarchal reaction,” said Yolanda Besteiro, the president of the Federation of Progressive Women.
She cited as an example massive protests backed by Spain’s Roman Catholic Church against a 2010 law which eased access to abortion introduced by a previous Socialist government.
But Claveria said the anti-feminism movement represented by Vox is different from the one which protested against abortion and the passage of same-sex marriage in 2004 in that it is a “more ‘modern’ sexism, in the sense that it considers that men and women are already equal.”
Therefore their argument is that special laws were no longer needed to protect women’s rights.