Madrid women on Hunger Strike
Madrid Hunger Strikes Highlight Women’s Opposition to Gender Based Violence
In Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s most central and bustling squares, a group of women decided to take a public stand against gender based violence. On 9th of February, eight women from the Asociación Ve-la Luz began a hunger strike in an attempt to force the Spanish Parliament to take urgent action against misogynistic violence, under the slogan “we will continue to show disobedience until we harvest freedom”.
Asociación Ve-la Luz is an organisation of women from Galicia, made up predominantly of survivors of abuse, whose mission is to raise awareness and fight against gender based and domestic violence.
The women gathered in protest to create urgent awareness for the issue of violence against women in Spain and to demand that the Spanish government take immediate action. The women made twenty-five demands to the government, setting out the measures they feel it is vital to see implemented, such as the constant availability of doctors or specialised personnel to deal with domestic violence available in all police forces in Spain all year round. Different reports show different figures, but a post on the 7 th February from Ve-la Luz’s Facebook page reported that ten women and one girl were murdered in the first thirty-eight days of 2017. Other reports say at least fifteen, and some claim that at least twenty women and girls have fallen victim to misogynistic violence only a couple of months into the year.
What is clear, however, is that there is a serious endemic which sees women and girls killed by men, often by partners or ex-partners as was the case for the majority of Spanish women murdered by men in the first two months of 2017. This has apparently been the worst start to a year in terms of the number of women dead at the hands of men since records began, a chilling fact that spurred these women into taking such extreme action. In vocally condemning and criticising “violencia machista”, Asociación Ve-la Luz called into question the whole culture of Spanish society, in which “machismo” has historically played a large part. This is a culture that encourages men to be big, tall, strong and manly, and women as creatures who fall hopelessly in love with these types of men. Macho men feel entitled to women, and this makes them feel more entitled to use violence as a means of control. To make matters worse, the Spanish government’s budget to tackle violence against women has decreased by 19% in the past six years.
By March, in the days leading up to International Women’s Day on the 8th, there were ten women and two men camped out in Puerta del Sol, and one woman was hospitalised with pneumonia in her struggle to continue with the hunger strike while being outdoors all day. Banners were surrounding the makeshift camp, and people left candles and shoes to symbolise the loss of life due to gender based violence. Their protest gained massive support from both Madrid’s citizens and tourists alike, especially at the end of February when a concert was organised to gain attention for the cause. Hundreds of people filled the square and multiple women singers performed in solidarity with the women of Ve-la Luz. The women then received a letter from the President of the Equalities Commission in the Spanish Senate, inviting them to give a presentation on 6 th March to discuss the best strategies to tackle domestic violence – a gesture welcomed by the activists who knew their drastic tactics had at least gained them the attention of politicians in Madrid.
The hunger strike lasted for a month, ending with International Women’s Day, and the group succeeded in gaining the attention of the Spanish Parliament. They presented before Congress on 29 th March to put forward their demands and the Ministry for Health, Social Services and Equality has created a working group to deal with tackling violence against women. They also managed to draw a large amount of attention to an incredibly important issue that is often swept under the rug, and hopefully their actions will have a lasting effect on Spanish domestic violence legislation.
It’s also important to note that the Spanish government itself is possibly trying to avoid taking responsibility for addressing the demands of Ve-la Luz. The working group created is bi-partisan and the government has failed to address the issue of their reduced budget for equality programmes over their time in government. Furthermore, the protesters complained about the fact that the official government figures regarding femicide don’t take into account the true number of women killed, for example omitting the deaths of women sex workers. The current domestic violence law, introduced in 2004, also only takes into account women who were killed by partners or ex-partners. Though extremely important, activists argue this can’t fully address the true scale of femicide in Spain and continue to call on the Spanish government to improve legislation.
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