The role of women in Spain has changed drastically over the 20th Century; from the dictatorships to the current government where there are currently nine government ministries held by women, including the first ever female defence minister, Carme Chacón. Within this essay, I will be reviewing the factors that have led to the evolution of the role of the Spanish woman.
Since the Second Republic, the role of women has changed significantly, where reforms for women were introduced. Although women were given municipal suffrage in 1924, it was essentially meaningless under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, as they were strongly discouraged from participating. This was the general situation for women before General Franco’s era. A movement for women's rights began in the early twenties, but had a reformist and careerist orientation, which centred upon women in the professional sector.
As a result of this movement, the Second Republic Constitution of 1931 brought votes for both sexes at twenty-three, a radical departure from the contemporary ideals of the time. The Republic brought measures for education and secularisation which also included provision for divorce if "just cause" was evident. Despite the widespread belief that women were ‘inferior’ to men, many women started to become involved in politics. These measures encouraged women to engage in all aspects of Spanish society through collectives and trade unions.
In extreme cases the social conditions for Spanish women prior to 1936 were highly repressive. Work undertaken by them was hard, long and poorly paid and when improvements did occur, they benefitted men predominantly. This period also introduced reforms such as maternity compensation which were embedded in the policies of most progressive groups, such as within the region of Catalonia. Thus setting it as an important progression towards the equality of women in Spanish society, through the improvement of their roles within the workplace.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, many men and women joined either the Nationalists or the Republicans to battle for control of the Spanish government. With a non-functioning government, much of Spain's economy was put under worker control and in anarchist strongholds like Catalonia; the figure was as high as 75% control, but lower in Communist Party influenced areas. Factories were run through worker committees, agrarian areas became collectivised and run as libertarian communes. Even places like hotels, barber shops, and restaurants were collectivized and managed by their workers. This led to new workers’ policies being implemented that would benefit both men and women. During the Spanish Civil War, women fought together with men, which was unheard of for that time. The Republican Army, defending its government from the Nationalists, was composed of ordinary citizens working together to survive. They organized support for women in the militias, setting up shooting ranges and target practice classes. They set up a school for nurses and an emergency medical clinic to treat those injured in the fighting. Women’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War was unprecedented, women, in Spain and globally, had never actively been involved in war in all aspects. This was a defining point for women, not just in Spain and showed that women were able to be involved in combat.
One of the main heroes of that army was Dolores Ibárruri, otherwise known as La Pasionaria, a leader of the Communist delegation in the legislature. She had encouraged the generals to start women's companies, which were eventually disbanded. But she became a symbol of resistance to oppression for all the soldiers, men and women.
While the Spanish Civil War was going on, there was a parallel revolution taking place. The Spanish Revolution was a worker’s social revolution that began in 1936. This social...