At 7pm on March 8th hundreds of women will march from Pl. Universitat to Pl. Sant Jaume to mark International Women’s Day, adding their voices to the growing global concern about the protection and advancement of women’s rights. Among the many individuals and groups taking part will be Ca la Dona, a local feminist organisation that has worked with women’s groups in Barcelona for almost 30 years. And, alongside them will be the newly-formed Barcelona Women’s March, who came into being in January of this year. We spoke to Rachel Mantiñan and Cecilia Gomez of the Barcelona Women’s March, and to Montserrat Cervera of Ca la Dona about their aims and how local and international women can work together.
As the Washington DC Women’s March drew closer and sister marches sprung up throughout the US and in cities across the world, Barcelona resident Stephanie Loveless realised that, like herself, many women in Barcelona wanted to express their solidarity with the movement. “The Women’s March in DC grew and women here really wanted to do something,” explains co-organiser Cecilia Gomez, a US-Argentine photographer who has lived in Barcelona on and off for nine years. “But we didn’t want it to be an anti-Trump rally. He’s just a symptom of the issues. It’s about human rights and respect. We’re an umbrella group that covers many needs. It’s really about ‘What’s your passion?’”
Loveless began a social media campaign just a few days before the march, and other women quickly signed up to help. “Everything was so last minute but we got a ton of support from the city,” says Gomez. “Marta Cruells from the Regidoría de Cicle de Vida, Feminisme i LGBT totally saved us. We had the permit but we realised we needed a sound system, and a few amazing people moved things like crazy for us, from the Ajuntament to the Guàrdia Urbana.”
On the day, the organisers expected a few hundred people, but around 2,500 turned up. Most of the marchers were women (and men) from other countries, although there was a small local presence. The organisers were clear from the beginning that they wanted to connect with and involve existing local groups. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There have been organisations here that have been supporting these causes for a long time and we didn’t want to come and usurp their role. This is about collaboration and joining forces,” says Gomez.
Also meeting that day was a small group from Ca la Dona, who wanted to lend their support to the marches taking place in the US and other countries. “We called them, and they said, ‘Great let’s all meet at Pl. Sant Jaume then,’” recalls Gomez. “They lent us their space to do the sign making. They were so open and excited about us.”
Montserrat Cervera of Ca la Dona describes the event as “truly fantastic. It was wonderful to see so many young women out.” Cervera has been with Ca la Dona since its beginnings in 1988, just 12 years after the death of Franco. The association has its headquarters in a building near Via Laietana, and here they host more than 20 groups that deal with a wide spectrum of women’s issues. From radical feminists and young mothers, to groups for women suffering from domestic abuse, Ca la Dona provides a meeting space and support.
We see the energy that is being awakened now and it’s fantastic to us. There are many powerful women out there making their voices heard
For Cervera, the international women injected some welcome energy into a movement that she feels has become somewhat stagnant. “Now that 40 years have passed since Franco’s death and we’re looking back, it’s incredible what has been achieved. From having absolutely nothing—and needing our husbands to give us permission to work, travel, do anything—women like myself, in our twenties, discovered everything. We went from nothing to creating groups in our neighbourhoods and being able to explore our lives, our sexuality. That energy hasn’t been lost but there are still so many issues at hand.” Despite vast improvements in legislation she feels that society has reached a ceiling with women’s rights, and although she is a self-confessed optimist she struggles to see how feminism will break through that ceiling. Cervera is constantly in touch with groups dealing with many different issues, but the one that touches her most profoundly is domestic violence. “Of course, during the dictatorship there was a lot of violence against women, but it is still going on. How can there be so many deaths in a democratic society?” As for the new US president, Cervera goes on to voice the same sentiment as Gomez, “Trump just put out on the table what was already there, what women already experience”.
Both groups see cooperation as the way forward and they will be getting together to prepare banners for the March 8th demonstration. To US-born, Barcelona resident Mantiñan it makes perfect sense: “They’ve been here a long time and have a lot of experience, and we’re new, so it’s a great collaboration”. The Women’s March has been encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response they’ve received. “A lot of local groups have come to us to see how we can all join forces. They were like, ‘That’s great and let’s see what we can do for you guys.’” They envisage being a coalition of many groups and interests that support each other, and they hope to help local groups who are keen to connect with international groups. On February 18th they joined the demonstration organised by Casa Nostra Casa Vostra to support refugees and their right to live in Spain. Now, they are looking to maintain the momentum, encouraging individuals and groups to come forward with ideas.
Cervera sees the importance of passing the baton on to a younger generation: “When younger women take action, many of the older generations support them. That’s so important, and something we didn’t have in the Seventies and Eighties. We see the energy that is being awakened now and it’s fantastic to us. There are many powerful women out there making their voices heard.”
40 Years of Feminism
In May 1976, just six months after the death of General Franco, the University of Barcelona hosted the first Jornadas Catalanas de la Mujer. More than 4,000 women took part, debating themes such as women and work, the media, daily life and sexuality. Many of the issues that arose and were debated during this historic event gave way to the key protests and campaigns that took place in the following years. To commemorate the occasion, a series of roundtables, exhibitions and film showings are taking place in each of the city’s districts until July 2017, under the title Dones en Moviment(s).
More information here.
- CA LA DONA
- WOMEN'S MARCH
- INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY - March 8th, 7pm. Meeting Place: Plaça de la Universitat
- FEMINIST PARTY - March 11th, 7pm - 1am. Can Batlló, Constitució 25.