INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day takes on different meanings depending upon which country you’re in – in some parts of the world, it means continuing the fight for girls to be allowed to go to school, not to be forced into marriage and to be safe, women to be allowed to work and to drive, to leave the house without a male chaperone, and for females to have equal access to medical care. In Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world, it’s a combination between celebrating all things female and championing our sisters, including high-profile ones such as women in sport, the arts and history, and pushing to mop up those less-obvious areas where true equality – or equivalence – between the sexes still leaves a lot to be desired.
Spain’s giant leaps
For Spain, where marches in purple (everyone wears at least a scarf in this colour) take to the streets in almost every town, equality has come a long way in a short time: More women than ever are now in positions of government, companies of 50 or more staff are obliged by law to allow their employees to consult everyone’s salary – without reprisal for the request – to ensure none of the women whose jobs are of equal value to the firm is being paid less than men, and a recent law brought in at the behest of Unidas Podemos’ second-in-command and equality minister Irene Montero, the government’s youngest key member at just 31, means hassling women verbally, not just physically, in the street, in bars, at private parties or any of the usual places is now a criminal offence.
The latter law means no more creepy cat-calling or wolf-whistling, highly-personal comments on a woman’s appearance, following her or pestering her unless the offender wants to face house arrest, community service and a hefty fine
Additionally, the legal figure of ‘consent’ has been changed so it is no longer held that a woman has to have given an express ‘no’ to sex as a defence if she is raped, but that only an explicit ‘yes’ – which can be implied rather than spoken but must be very clear – is considered ‘consent’. The idea is that if a woman is very drunk, has been drugged, or opts for silence and compliance to avoid aggravating her attacker, no judge can rule that she has not been raped because she ‘did not say no’.
And another welcome move which Spain’s government wants to bring in shortly is to allow lesbian couples and heterosexual or homosexual single women to be given fertility treatment on the State health service, so they can fulfil their dream of having children, but safely and with full legal protection, without having to pay hundreds or thousands of euros to private clinics.
In many cases, this is a straightforward insemination rather than full IVF, so the cost to the health service is low, and in practice, most regional health authorities in Spain will carry it out on the State anyway, but the new law – when passed – will mean none of them can refuse by applying the ‘traditional’ rule that fertility treatment is only available to heterosexual couples who have ‘tried naturally for at least a year without managing to conceive’.
Data, medical research and product design still lags behind
But ‘invisible inequalities’ still exist – the new ‘anti-harassment’ law will help, but an entire generation is likely to pass before the idea of walking home alone in the dark does not spark fear into women’s heads; albeit in Spain, it is safer to do this than in almost any country in the world.
And scientific research into data collection and use shows that as studies in almost every area from engineering to medicine have focused entirely on men in the past, women’s convenience and safety is not always guaranteed: crash-test dummies used in car manufacturing have historically always been based upon the male build and, even now, the ‘female’ and ‘child’ versions are simply scaled-down models of the male ones, meaning, statistically, when women suffer a crash as a driver or a passenger, they are 47% more likely to be injured.
Many modern mobile phones are too large for a woman to hold comfortably in her hand; ‘push’ and ‘pull’ doors require a greater physical effort, heart attack warning signs people know to look out for in themselves and others are based upon those felt by men rather than women, and psychological research into learning disorders such as dyscalculia (‘number dyslexia’), attention deficit disorder (ADD), autism and Asperger’s have involved research on boys and men, meaning girls and women often go through their entire lives without a diagnosis unless they fit the ‘male profile’.
A complete and accurate study of these and other factors has recently been exposed in The Invisible Woman, by British-Argentinian researcher Caroline Criado Pérez.
Clearly, these features are not the result of modern scientific research and product design failing to follow gender-inclusive procedures but are based upon historic methods – even as recently as 40 or 50 years ago, legal equality for women was extremely limited – which have not been updated.
Equality benefits both sexes
What is crucial now is that society is aware of these ‘invisible inequalities’ and keen to do something about them and that the ‘feminist’ movement is based upon full equivalence for males and females alike.
For example, Spain recognises that it was unfair how dads had to go back to work two weeks after their children were born, meaning they cannot participate fully in their care and bond with them in the same way as mums, who have 16 weeks off, and has responded accordingly by increasing paternity leave to 12 weeks, with a view to its becoming equal in the future.
Stigma around certain professional and non-professional rôles held by men is much less prevalent in Spain than elsewhere in the west: plenty of men work as nurses, care assistants, secretaries, social workers and school teachers, and a growing number of dads opt to be chief child-carer in heterosexual couples who are able to afford for one parent to drop to part-time hours or give up work; it is not at all unusual to find baby-changing facilities in men’s toilets, or separate nappy-rooms used by parents of either sex.
And with a self-confessed ‘feminist’ government – as yet, Spain has never had a female president, but its current leader Pedro Sánchez is committed to gender equivalence – it is likely that any existing issues which give either men or women an advantage over the other sex will gradually come under scrutiny and be addressed.
Men join Women’s Day parades: Here’s why
Plenty of men have been joining in today’s Women’s Day marches, and not just because they have mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. Men are affected by ‘everyday sexism’, too – a lone man walking home at night knows that any woman he passes will consider him a rapist unless proven otherwise, and act accordingly; this is a bitter stigma for the vast majority of men who would never hassle or attack a woman to have to bear. Also, the gender pay gap means less income for the family as a whole, not just the women.
Various Spanish media spoke to men taking part in today’s march – they included popular Spanish-language news site 20minutos.es, which spoke to Ángel Requena, in his 60s, who said: “I’m here today because I believe that equality will bring a better world for everyone. We mustn’t forget ‘micro-sexism’, which is something we men have a lot of work to do in correcting.”
Brais and Nando, two men in their late 20s, were interviewed and said: “Nowadays, there shouldn’t need to be an International Women’s Day, but the fact there is means we still have work to do.”
Both wore protective masks, but not because of widespread Coronavirus fears: “A patriarchal society is much more dangerous if you’re infected by it than Coronavirus,” they said.
Sergio Cristóbal said: “International Women’s Day is an essential battle for equality – we need to lend visibility to many of the problems that are still happening today. Any patriarchal system strangles all types of rights and freedoms, not just those of women.”
José Luis said his wife and daughter ‘deserve the same rights, chances and wages as men’, and considers that, in the past, women have been ‘trampled upon’ – in fact, he joined the march with his wife Beatriz and daughter Clara, the latter of whom said she was ‘proud’ to be there with both parents and to have grown up in a family which brought her up to believe in gender equivalence.
Madrid is where the main International Women’s Day march takes place, although only about a third of the usual number turned out as a precaution in order to avoid risking the spread of Coronavirus,
the sentiments remain the same – and even long after the day comes when no more campaigning is needed because full equivalence is guaranteed, it is likely to continue to be a tradition simply to celebrate all things female, and as a day to remember one’s female friends and relatives who make our lives a happier place.