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Spain's feminist movement in focus ahead of election

Women in the remote village of Loureiro in northwest Spain have embraced an ever-growing feminist movement
Women in the remote village of Loureiro in northwest Spain have embraced an ever-growing feminist movement AFP
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Nogueira de Ramuín (Spain) (AFP)

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.

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 8 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."

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.

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 8 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.

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