Gender is at the Heart of Spain’s 2019 Election

Spain’s 2019 general election will take place on 28 April. This year, a range of political alternatives have emerged across the ideological spectrum, creating an extremely heated electoral debate. And gender seems to be at the heart of the conversations.

In 2018, a passionate feminist movement was sparked in Spain. It was a reaction to the most high-profile rape case in the country, known as the ‘Manada’ or ‘Wolf Pack’ case. Five men were accused of gang raping an 18-year-old girl. They were sentenced to 9 years in jail for “sexual abuse”, but acquitted of rape. Such a verdict was made possible because the Spanish law requires rape cases to include proof of “resistance” from a victim. In this case, the young woman was deemed to have shown “passive” behaviour.

Public reaction to the ‘Wold Pack’ verdict was unprecedented.

Thousands of (mostly) women stormed the streets of Spain’s main cities. They called on leaders to change the current legislation and reverse a patriarchal justice system. They also offered support to all sexual abuse victims – voicing “yo te creo” (I believe you). However, a ‘macho movement’ has grown in backlash to this feminist renaissance. Spain has heard narratives of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and excusal of “boys will be boys” behaviour.

Conversations around gender and feminism have dominated Spanish news, TV shows and social media. And now, in the run-up to the elections, gender is being used ruthlessly as a political tool.

Right-wing and extreme-right-wing parties seem to be on a race towards backwardness and misogyny. In a recent electoral debate, one of Partido Popular’s regional leaders – Cayetena Álvarez de Toledo – made a very alarming remark on consent. She stated that during sex, “no one says yes, yes, yes until the end”, and that “silence doesn’t mean no”. Cayetana is well-known for her anti-feminist views. In the past, she has has been vocal about her beliefs that equality was achieved long ago, and that today’s feminism is unrealistic.

Vox, a newly acclaimed far-right party, has gained voters’ favour with straight-up misogynistic discourse. They have repeatedly described feminism as “supremacist”. The party has publicly questioned official data on violence against women, alleging that “many women unjustly report their partners”.

The third party in the conservative game is Ciudadanos. They have become quite popular due to their ‘liberal feminism’. Inés Arrimadas, regional leader for Ciudadanos, has stated that every woman should be free to reclaim equality on her own terms. The issue with liberal feminism is that while it acknowledges gender inequalities, it dramatically fails to see the sexist structures that allow them, in favour of market self-regulatory rules.

In contrast, Spain’s left-wing parties are doing exactly the opposite and intensifying their pro-feminism discourses. The Socialist Workers’ Party has been vocal about gender quotas in the private and public sectors, and fight against the gender wage gap.

In fact, Spain’s current president – Pedro Sánchez – recently became the first world leader to appoint women to almost two-thirds of cabinet positions.

Further along the progressive spectrum, there’s Podemos. Irene Montero, the party’s spokesperson, is a long-term feminist activist. Her gender narrative has intensified with the introduction of gender-neutral language and the proposal of feminism as a subject in school.

Across the political spectrum, gender is receiving huge attention in this year’s Spanish elections.

It’s the guest star at every political rally, sparking both outrage and admiration. And while some still fight to safeguard traditional patriarchal values and try to destabilise feminism, the truth is that gender has never been so high on the political agenda.

Our Spanish sisters must be doing something right.

Two Women Causing Ripples in American Politics

The American electorate seems to be more divided than ever. It is becoming more and more apparent that if you are a woman, lgbtqi+, Muslim, or not white, your voice is not being valued. Given all of this, I want to highlight two women who are refusing to be silent or intimidated within the American political arena.   

Ilhan Omar

Born in Somali, Ilhan lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for four years during the Somali civil war before her family were given the chance to move to Minnesota, USA, when she was aged 13.

After several years of community organising, in 2016 Ilhan faced a seemingly impossible task – to push through self doubt and take the leap to run for State Representative in Minnesota’s Senate District 60B. Up against incumbent Phyllis Kahn, and a male representative of the Somali community, Mohamud Noor, Ilhan ran on a platform focused on:

“cancelling student debt, banning private prisons, increasing the number of refugees admitted to the U.S., and cutting funding for “perpetual war and military aggression.” She supports passing a national bill of rights for renters, the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act and automatically registering every eighteen-year-old to vote.” 

After she won the campaign, allegations surfaced around her marriage history (based on nothing more than a right-wing blog). The claims were found to be just as baseless as those made against Barack Obama and his birth certificate.

Are these sorts of media tactics new? No. Did they stop Ilhan from taking office? No.

In many ways, Ilhan is the embodiment of the groups President Trump wants to silence. In November, Ilhan will become the first refugee from Africa, the first Somali-American, one of the first two Muslim-American women and the first woman in a hijab to be elected to the United States Congress – this is progress.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Finally, the mainstream media has begrudgingly accepted that Alexandria deserves column space. Why? Because she won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district! And because she is a woman, Democratic Socialist, first generation American, Spanish speaking girl from the Bronx who beat the man tipped to be the new head of the Democratic party.

Alexandria has had a life many, many others in America have had – born to Puerto Rican mother and a father from the Bronx, she has worked the 18-hour double jobs. So if she is the poster child for what can be achieved with the ‘American Dream’, why do so many from both political sides fear her rise through the ranks?

The key points from her platform are: Medicare for all, fully funded public schools and universities, universal jobs guarantee, housing as a human right, justice-system reform, immigration reform, “new green deal” to combat climate change, and campaign-finance reform. 

Am I worried Alexandria will bow to the pressures of 21st century politics or give in to pressure from this administration? No.

“Well you know, the president is from Queens, and with all due respect, half of my constituents are from Queens. I don’t think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx.” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In a climate where lunatics are running around New York threatening to call immigration on people because they are speaking Spanish, I think its vital to have a representative like Alexandria. In a climate where executive order number 13769 (the travel ban) is still being enforced, I think it is essential to have a representative like Ilhan.

Of course, I don’t want to get lost in identity politics, these women represent more than these two issues. And clearly, these issues are not going to be solely fought and won by individuals – they need help.

So get involved! If you feel an issue is worth fighting for please get involved in local politics and register to vote in the mid-term elections.

I’m sure no one needs reminding, but here are some examples of recent action by the current administration:

The current administration continues to try to silence and diminish groups they believe to hold little power – but women like Ilhan and Alexandria show that the tides can turn, and that there may be a storm brewing.

Zimbabwe’s Elections: Old Habits Die Hard

Today, 31 July 2018, Zimbabwe will hold elections.

However, women are not fairly represented in these elections – clearly demonstrating that even in Parliament, men continue to dominate. I want to highlight some of the critical issues which I feel act as a bottleneck and prevent women from entering politics, as well as what this means for women and girls in general.

Political parties don’t seem to be doing enough to promote and support women as candidates. In fact, they seem to be actively standing in their way. This is being done through naming and shaming of women who want to run as councillors, members of parliament or presidential candidates. Men use vulgar language and focus on physical appearance to silence women, especially those who try to be vocal. 

Such harassment has caused understandable frustrations and in the past, female candidates have been intimidated and forced to back down – leaving the path clear for male candidates. It disgusts me that even in 2018, these denigrating tactics have been used by male candidates to silence women.

Research carried out by the Department of Political and Adminstrative Studies at the University of Zimbabwe – The Implications of the Quota System in Promoting Gender Equality in Zimbabwean Politics – found that sexual harassment of women is a weapons used to silence women at constituency, party and parliamentary level. This, of course, impacts negatively on the fair representation of all genders in Parliament.

Since 1980, when Zimbabwe attainted it’s independence, the representation of women in Parliament has always been lower than 33%. In this forthcoming election, representation of women in parliament raises a lot of questions regarding the country’s seriousness when it comes to promoting and effectively supporting women as equal citizens.

In my opinion, democracy is non-existent if there is absence of equal participation of men and women in politics. Equal representation in parliament is pivotal as it allows all genders to present their issues. For instance, women’s issues, desires and goals are not identical to those of men. There is need for more women to be in Parliament to advocate meaningfully for girls and women’s rights, including reproductive health and rights, socio-economic independence and political freedom.

The quota system has been helpful in making sure certain percentage of seats in parliament are reserved for women, however, running for office is very costly and women often don’t have the same access to loans to finance their campaigns. For many women, actually making it to parliament remains a pie in the sky dream.

In Zimbabwe, the level of progress towards achieving gender equality is not satisfying. In fact, women are viewing politics as a dirty game which they need not involve themselves in for safety reasons. This is problematic in many ways, and we’re getting further away from closing the gender gap as more and more women continue to shun politics.

The fact that Zimbabwe has a proportion of 16% women in local parliament is pathetic. It shows that very little progress has been made in allowing women political space for representation in parliament, and clearly shows that old habits die hard! Without real change in this year’s elections, women and girls will continue to have to fight hard for their voices to be over the next five years.

I believe that in Zimbabwe, the  representation of women in parliament can improve only if there is financial support. As it stands, running in an election is increasingly costly and women are greatly affected by a shortage of available financing and campaign support. Quota systems have been helpful, but more needs to be done and political parties also should shun the harassment of women as these factors are seriously hindering women’s representation in parliament.

#MariellePresente: Remembering Marielle Franco

She was a black woman from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous slums. She was gay, a feminist, and a mother. She was educated, holding a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and a master’s degree in public administration. She was elected as a Rio de Janeiro city council member in 2016 – her first time running for office. She fought for human rights and spoke out about police violence in Rio’s slums. She was 38 years-old.

She was Marielle Franco.

And on March 14 2018, she was murdered.

She had just left an event in Rio de Janeiro about young black women, which she posted about on her Twitter and Facebook profiles, when she and her driver were shot and killed in the car they were in.

News of her death sent shockwaves not only across Brazil and Latin America but across the world, as international human rights organizations condemned her murder and fellow Brazilian politicians paid tribute.

The investigation of her death is ongoing, and if her death is related to her work in denouncing police violence is still uncertain.

What is certain, however, is that Brazil lost a symbol of its new era: an era in which someone who embodies the country’s long-oppressed and ignored minorities – black, female, gay – can represent so many Brazilians, and be recognised as worthy of a place of power in politics.

Just days before her murder, on the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, Franco spoke out about violence against women during a meeting at Rio’s city council. She was also outspoken about her experiences with racial discrimination in Brazil. As a politician, she pushed for better access to legal abortions and reproductive rights, especially for black women (since, as Franco pointed out, black women are the majority of victims of rape, and abortion is legal in Brazil under that circumstance), and against police violence in the slums of Rio. There are countless examples of her life’s dedication to defending human rights in all their intersectionality.  

She represented an exception to Brazil’s political landscape, but if the massive gatherings of people protesting her murder and celebrating her life serve as a glimpse into the future, she won’t be the last gay, black, or female person to be elected to represent the people of Brazil.

As the viral hashtag #MariellePresente alludes to, her legacy remains alive and present, and will do so for a long time to come.

Top 5 Feminist Moments of 2017

1. Women’s March

On January 21 2017, advocates for policies regarding human rights and women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, environmental protections, LGBTQ rights, racial equality and freedom of religion marched around the world. Many marchers protested the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump and his anti-women, anti-immigration, anti-environmental protection, anti-Islamic and other offensive rhetoric. The Washington Post reported that the Women’s March was likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history with over 400 planned marches in the U.S alone.  Over 60 sister marches took place worldwide from Mexico City to Amsterdam to Durban. The march embodied the collective power of individuals standing up for women and standing up for what they believe in.

2. International Women’s Day x A Day Without Women

March 8th 2017 marked International Women’s Day and ‘A Day Without Women’. The goal of A Day Without Women was to “recognize the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system–while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” Women took the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoided shopping for one day (with the exception of small, women- and minority-owned businesses), and wore red in solidarity. Women worldwide participated (including Girls’ Globe blogger Bita).

3. Wonder Woman

Last summer, Wonder Woman hit theatres and ignited necessary debate regarding women and their media portrayal. Wonder Woman is a female heroine who saves the world, yet does so half-naked. As a white woman with impossible proportions, her large-breasts and sexy outfit play into a toxic narrative that can disempower young girls. The conversation surrounding the portrayal of a female heroine is essential to improving the representation and treatment of women in the media and beyond. Yet, earning over $800 million, Wonder Woman is the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman. As the reviews of the movie came out, essential debates emerged on what makes a ‘feminist film’ and whether Wonder Woman was a feminist icon or a feminist failure. Regardless of your opinion, these healthy conversations encourage critical thinking and ultimately move towards equality for women.

4. Electing Women to Office

Hillary Clinton’s loss of the 2016 U.S. election was a watershed moment for women as it bore the Women’s March and new political organization throughout the world. In the 2017 elections, women, LGBTQ candidates and candidates of color made history. In Virginia, Danica Roem became the state’s first transgender lawmaker and beat the incumbent lawmaker who drafted a ‘bathroom bill’ to stop transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. Voters in Charlotte, NC elected their first African-American woman to mayor – Vi Lyles. Other historically unrepresented groups gained key positions of power, too. In Helena, MN elected progressive candidate Wilmot Collins – a refugee from Liberia – to mayor. Outside the U.S., an indigenous woman ran for office in Mexico for the first time, representing the voices of minorities and historically oppressed and underrepresented groups.

5. #MeToo

In October 2017, #MeToo went viral across social media to decry widespread sexual harassment and assault. The hashtag gained momentum as The New York Times reported that more than a dozen women accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing, assaulting or raping them.  Following the Weinstein accusation, dozens of other powerful men from U.S. Congressman to actors to media producers faced accusations of sexual misconduct. While the accusations and response have been mixed, these men were predominantly white and always powerful. Time Magazine selected The Silence Breakers for their 2017 Person of the Year award amidst these events. #MeToo represents a long pattern of women facing harassment and job insecurity in the workplace. Hopefully, in light of these events, workplace culture will change and women will get the respect they deserve.

What were YOUR feminist highlights of 2017? Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know! 

Feminist Friday: Women Who Inspire Me

The world is full of inspirational women, but today I want to focus on those who are making a difference in the political or media realms. These four women continue to make progress related to women’s rights and the media attention that women’s issues receive. I believe they deserve our applause and appreciation!

Leanne Manas

Leanne Manas is one of the most esteemed personalities on the South African media circuit, having won multiple awards as a TV presenter and radio host. Manas has interviewed some of the most accomplished public figures of her time, from Oprah Winfrey to Nelson Mandela, who chose her before his passing as one of his 46664 ambassadors.

Manas played a vital role in the lead-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and her ability to report on hard-hitting news stories has built her career internationally. Driven by her love for her country and fellow South Africans, Manas is inspiring because of her tenacity to represent the best of her country while reporting on the worst of it. Her strong desire to make her country better saw her summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2015 on Nelson Mandela Day, to raise money for Caring for Girls.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris, previously attorney general for two terms in California, is no stranger to breaking the archaic barriers which have formed the structure of American politics as we know it.

Harris, whose parents are Indian and Jamaican immigrants, is smashing through that proverbial glass ceiling. Her most recent win on November 8 2016 makes her the first Indian-American and the second black woman ever to be a U.S. Senator. And while she only started her new career on Capitol Hill in December – she has already promised to challenge Trump on his ideas regarding immigration reform.

Harris represents a demographic which is usually maligned by the undercurrents of prejudice in patriarchal institutions. As Jada Patchigondla, a San Jose State University lecturer stated, seeing Kamala Harris elected “gives me hope and encouragement… I hope she will inspire many young Indian-American women to get involved in politics.”

Gretchen Carlson

A news anchor, author, and public speaker, Carlson is an acclaimed broadcast news anchor and journalist. Her best-selling book, Getting Real, and her thoughtful yet candid voice on women’s leadership earned her a spot in TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” list for 2017.

Carlson is an admirable and impressive person all-around. A hard-talking and insightful political reporter, she also volunteers at her church and sits on the board of several charities, including the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in Newtown, Connecticut.

However, perhaps most importantly, Carlson is a light in the woods for female survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace, and a champion of gender equality in general. She recently commented that sexual assault and gender inequality “is not only a women’s issue. It’s a societal issue. Men need to hire more women and put them in higher positions of power within organizations.”

Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth broke a host of barriers when she won election to Congress four years ago.

Duckworth, who lost her legs and injured her right arm while serving in the Iraq war, became the first disabled woman to reach the House. She’s also the only female U.S. Senator to have seen combat and the first member of Congress who was born in Thailand.

As army veteran Taylor Vialpando puts it, “It’s refreshing to see someone who truly cares for all people and has so much life experience and personal sacrifice to back it up.”

There are inspirational women all around us. Although we’re conditioned only to celebrate certain virtues that women have, the truth is that females have tremendously varied talents and skills. Women and girls are just as capable as their male counterparts, and you deserve to feel proud to be a female.