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ELECTION

Why Spain’s feminist movement is in the spotlight ahead of election

Loureiro may be a remote village in northwestern Spain with barely 60 residents but it too has embraced an ever-growing feminist movement in a sign of how significant women's rights have become ahead of Sunday's election.

Why Spain's feminist movement is in the spotlight ahead of election
Women in the village of Loureiro. Photos: Miguel Riopa / AFP

After two straight years of mass, nationwide protests and strikes on International Women's Day, Spanish women voters will be “more decisive than ever,” says Francisco Camas of polling firm Metroscopia.

More than ever politicians are courting women's votes, even if the feminist movement has also triggered a backlash led by far-right party Vox, which has only just burst onto the political scene.

On March 8th as women worldwide marked their special day, residents in Loureiro nestled in the rural wine region of Ribeira Sacra took to the streets, just like others did in Madrid, Barcelona and all over the country.

A village so small it doesn't even appear in Google Maps, with its traditional, crumbling stone houses, granaries falling into disuse and an ageing population, women marched in Loureiro's first ever protest.

“We thought there would be just two of us and in the end almost half the village came. It's historic,” says Emilia Pato, a 60-year-old resident of the village, officially part of Nogueira de Ramuin, a larger town.

Poor public transport made it hard for them to go to demonstrations in nearby towns, so they decided to protest at home with a banner that read, “Rural women can also go to the bar.”

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They ended up in the only bar in the village, where the tables are usually full of men playing cards.

“It's not that we were banned from going to the bar but we didn't go of our own will,” explains Hermitas Rieiro Couto, 58.   

Since then, “we've woken up,” she says happily.So it is that the women meet regularly and have got involved in village issues — until now the purview of men.

“The protest was a turning point,” says Catalina Santiago, 68, (pictured in her greenhouse below)

After living in Switzerland and the Spanish city of Valladolid, she decided to retire in her husband's home village.   

“We're energised, we know that we're also valuable and that we can do things way better than men.”

More undecided

Theirs is just one of many anecdotes in Spain, currently at the forefront of the fight for women's rights after mass mobilisation on March 8th for two consecutive years.

“According to our data, around 80 percent of the population supported the women's strikes in March 2018 and 2019,” says pollster Camas.   

And more women voters than men are still undecided about the upcoming polls, he adds.

 A matter politicians have taken note of.   

Incumbent socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez appointed 11 female ministers out of 17 when he took power in June, a fact he likes to highlight.   

And the Socialist Party is a favourite among women, with 55 percent of its voters female, according to Metroscopia.   

Centre-right party Ciudadanos, meanwhile, is also attracting women with its concept of “liberal feminism” that defends gender equality but “doesn't exclude men.”

Even the conservative Popular Party (PP) — that only recently wanted to restrain access to abortion — has jumped onboard, says Silvia Claveria, a politics expert at Madrid's Carlos III University.

'Backlash'

But voices of discord are starting to be heard, particularly with the emergence of far-right Vox with its virulent rhetoric against what it dubs “radical feminism” which it believes “criminalises” men.

Opinion polls estimate that Vox could enter the national parliament for the first time after Sunday's general election.   

It's a “testosterone vote,” says Camas, pointing out that 75 percent of the party's voters are men.

“There is an anti-feminism counter-wave,” warns Claveria.   

The rise of Vox has also pushed the PP more to the right.   One of the conservative party's candidates, for instance, questioned the necessity of women giving their direct consent before having sex.

That generated controversy in a country which slammed judges for convicting five men accused of gang-raping a teenager in 2016 of sexual abuse, rather than rape, of the victim.

By AFP's Daniel Bosque 

READ ALSO: Who's who: What you need to know about Spain's five main electoral candidates 

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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