Photo by Lee Woolcock
Maria Palomares Arenas 3
Nicola Thornton interviews women's rights activist Maria Palomares Arenas about the feminist movement in Spain and around the world.
I’ve been living in Barcelona since 2000. I came here from Seville to do my internship for my Masters at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs. I studied journalism so am very interested in information and democratic practices.
I started thinking about women’s rights at university and participated in various women’s groups in Seville. When I came here, I got involved in other groups and became Executive Director of Calala this year.
My mum was a feminist and I learned a lot from her. She worked as a teacher and was quite high up in a workers’ union with specific responsibility for women’s issues. The feminist movement here started in the seventies when Franco died and women started to organise themselves—my mum was part of this generation.
Feminism is a big movement and every woman who wants to be part of it can interpret it their own way, but at its heart, it is looking to defend women’s rights and to create an equal society. It can be done with men’s support or in women’s groups, but essentially, it is the same work.
Calala is a member of the International Network of Women’s Funds. The women who created this foundation in 2000 worked in the cooperation sector and saw how donations didn’t arrive to women-led projects, so they wanted to set up a project that would change this reality.
Our main partner is the Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM), the first and only foundation in Central America dedicated to mobilising resources for women’s grassroots groups. I travelled to El Salvador this summer and saw some of the work they are doing. It is incredible.
To the world, it looks as if these economies are growing, but there is still a large divide between the people with money and the vast majority who are on low incomes or in poverty. All these countries have a history of fighting for democracy and a good system for everybody, and women have been a key part of this fight, but in recent years, the governments seem to be working against women’s rights, around sex and reproductive rights, about how they want their lives to be, so FCAM has a lot of work to do now.
Sometimes it’s actually like it’s gone backwards. For example, in Nicaragua they are bringing in laws that are setting women’s rights back 20 or 30 years because the religious parties have a lot of power in the government.
We support women’s groups in Spain and Catalunya too because there is a lot of work to do. There are still women who die at the hands of their husbands and this is the worst problem for women in this country. Also we now have a government that wants to change politics for women and also go back 30 years. And with the crisis…all these cuts and the reduction of public support for society affects women. If you are sent home from hospital after one day, somebody has to take care of you and well, it will usually be a woman, which means more work for them. It’s happening in education too; most of the people working in schools are women and are in a labour sector that is seeing huge cuts.
We are also giving support to immigrant women without papers because they are in a particularly bad situation at the moment. One of the groups we work with is doing a good job showing how much these women contribute to society.
I really admire women who work hard for their community and who achieve their goals, and who find solutions for the problems in the community and their own private lives.
Interview by Nicola Thornton. Photo by Lee Woolcock