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Spain marks International Women's Day with strike, mass protests
[MADRID] Spain marked International Women's Day Friday with a pro-equality strike and mass protests, in what has become a hot topic ahead of next month's election.
Organised by Spain's two largest unions CCOO and UGT, the two-hour work stoppage was observed by more than six million people nationwide, according to UGT. Other smaller unions called for a 24-hour strike.
In the northern Basque Country, the regional parliament was forced to suspend a session as most female lawmakers didn't show up for work.
Hundreds had pledged to take part, among them nuns, prominent journalists and other workers, including Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, with the aim of recreating an unprecedented two-hour work stoppage that took place on the same day in 2018.
Protests took place all day including one in the northern city of Bilbao which attracted 30,000 people.
In the seaside city of Barcelona, tens of thousands of women of all ages and men took to the centre in a sea of purple, the colour long associated with gender equality, in a festive atmosphere.
"Things haven't changed much," said Amelia Leon, a 69-year-old retiree who was marching with two retiree friends.
"When I worked as a manager in a pharmaceutical laboratory, the men who were two categories below me earned more than me. And it's still happening in many places."
In the Spanish capital, meanwhile, tens of thousands also marched through the centre, the fountains along the way bathed in purple lighting.
"I'm mobilising above all for what is missing to achieve equality," said Clara Lopez, 29, her face painted in purple, pointing for instance to the lack of women in high-level executive positions.
With snap elections looming on April 28, women's rights have become a major theme for both the left and right, with everyone pledging a fight against inequality.
European Union figures show the gender pay gap in Spain stands at 14.2 per cent, two points below the bloc's average.
And gender violence continues to extract a deadly toll, with 47 women killed by their partners or ex-partners last year -- bringing to 975 the number female victims since 2003, according to government figures.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who has made women's rights one of the central themes of his campaign, said he wanted "a feminist Spain".
"Only with feminism will we end violence against women and achieve real equality," he wrote on Twitter.
Even the national police weighed in, saying Thursday it was working on a "non-sexist language guide" for its officers.
But there were also an increasing number of dissenting voices, with the conservative Popular Party accusing the left of appropriating feminism to get more votes.
In Madrid, Carmen Cibiriain, a 71-year-old retiree, said the issue was being used for politicians' own ends.
"When I hear them say that feminism is liberal, or that it's anti-capitalist, it isn't. It's equality," she said.
The far-right has pledged to make the fight against "radical feminism" a priority.
And the deeply-conservative "Women of the World Global Platform," a Spanish initiative which groups like-minded associations from around the world, has called its own rally in Madrid on Sunday.
The aim, according to its website, is to "affirm femininity, the value of motherhood and dedication to the family and... to show our sincere affection, admiration and gratitude to our dear men".
Another ultra-conservative association has been driving around in a bus emblazoned with the slogan "#StopFeminazis" and a picture of Hitler in pink lipstick.
Anna Bosch, a journalist at Spain's TVE state television - which did not air several Friday programmes due to the strike - said women had mobilised en masse last year following a series of controversial court cases.
One involved the sentencing of five men who were accused of gang-raping a teenager in 2016 for sexual abuse rather than rape.
What had motivated women this year, was the rise in prominence of "positions that are clearly backward", she told AFP.