Europe Rises Against Spain’s War on Women

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“Because it’s my decision,” tens of thousands marched in Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, Germany, UK, Italy, Sweden to stop the Spanish government’s attack on women’s liberties and bodies.

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One of the most massive, explosive, and beautiful shows of solidarity seen in Europe for quite some time shook the dreadful gates of Europe’s shameful past of century-long state terrorism against Spanish women, perpetuated by the State and the Christian Church.

Sign in front of Catholic Cathedral in Barcelona sends a clear message to the Church: “If you occupy our bodies, we’ll occupy your temples.”

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Tens of thousands of people in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona and tens of other Spanish cities, to Paris and at least other 30 French cities took to the streets to stop the nationalization of women’s bodies and the criminalization of their liberties by the capitalist State and the Church in Spain.

“This is a march for women’s dignity,” reads a sign of a protester in Madrid.

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Arrogant and deaf to women’s existence and voices, the conservative government – at the instigation of the Catholic Church in Spain – announced it is moving forward with a law that would ban abortion, and throw women back in the claws of state criminal repression that some experienced during the fascist dictatorship of Franco and even long after that.

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“We were treated like terrorists”, said Marisa Vallero, 55 years old, who remembered how she had to fly to London 35 years ago. “We don’t want to turn the clock back 40 years. Having an abortion used to be a crime in Spain. We don’t want to return to that. I would never have imagined we would find ourselves back here, fighting for something we thought we had won,” said 57-year-old protestor Maria Pilar Sanchez, quoted by AFP.

Over 250 organisations, unions, clinics and some political parties in Spain joined forces and created the movement Nosotros Decidimos (“We decide”), to protect women’s liberties and bodies from the church and state.

When they started marching on the streets of Madrid, in September 2013, women noticed they were again alone in this fight: “Why aren’t all the men who protested with us during the 15-M movement here with us today? Abortion affects not only women, but everybody.”

Sign reads: “Free moms and dads!”

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Indeed. What is remarkable about the February 1st European-wide protests for women’s liberties is that this time, men joined in large numbers. They were not left alone again to endure the stigmatization campaigns of their oppressors: men understood women’s oppression affects them, too.

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It was not just in Madrid and France that thousands took it to the streets. The attack against the women in Spain is seen as an attack against every woman in Europe, and demonstrators made it clear that it won’t be tolerated. They won’t keep quiet in shame and let crimes happen to other women and to themselves.

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Each year in the world, at least 70,000 women die because they are forced to undergo unsafe, illegal abortions, and many times more are mutilated. Some suggest it might be actually worse: out of 20 million women who are forced into unsafe (illegal) abortions, 47,000 die each year. Most of these women (over 70%) are poor and can’t afford to take care of children. Poverty has been inflicted on Europeans too, by the capitalist class and its extremist economic policies, which makes the law forcing women to give birth in Spain even more perverse. But this time they speak up.

Julia Gómez posted this message on Twitter: “Government wants to make women guilty because of our right to decide.”

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People with varying beliefs, political opinions, and ideas, all stood together in solidarity with the women in Spain: from London, to Hannover and Berlin in Germany, from Athens to Istanbul, from Palermo to Lyon and Stockholm. These were not the only protests, earlier demonstrations took place in other countries of Eastern Europe too, the Baltics – in Lithuania the government plans for a similar law.

Lydia Vicente from Lithuania, a country that plans to enforce a similar anti-women law, posted this message on Twitter: “My body belongs to me, not to the Parliament!”

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This law is an outrageous attack on women, as the neoliberal-conservative government in Spain are essentially nationalizing women’s bodies – basically when a state bans abortions, it has confiscated women’s bodies from them, turning them into baby factories. It’s a capitalist necessity inherent in the system – at the same time, the government is privatizing and attempts to privatize vital services, for which Spaniards pay taxes to use: healthcare and hospitals, education, electricity and others.

Sign reads: “The revolution will be feminist or will not be at all.”

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It’s even more outrageous, as one protestor said: “In Spain abortion won’t be legal, but they can fire you for getting pregnant!” – a reference to the draconian labor laws imposed by the capitalists which curtailed workers’ rights and led to the unemployment rate in Spain being one of the highest in Europe: a quarter of the population have been without work for a few years in a row now.

This law also means that women’s bodies will be criminalized again – one of the European historical “values” politicians never brag about on TV.

Sign reads: “No to sexist medieval laws!

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In the West (Europe and the United States), women had to fight for decades to escape – partially – from the state repression against them. Their bodies still are regulated by the state, although repression has decreased mildly.

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In almost all states in Europe women are forced to explain why they don’t want to give birth. In other states, like Malta and Andorra, they are not allowed to say no: abortion is illegal on any grounds, even rape. In Poland and Ireland – in Ireland, until the beginning of this year  – legal (safe) abortion was limited to extreme situations, rape included. Otherwise, women are forced to give birth. Or die, as it happened in Ireland when a Hindu woman was denied abortion, and this killed her, on grounds that “Ireland is a Catholic country.

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In many countries, women are still fighting to exist. It’s not known how many lives this repression has taken in the past, or how many women it has mutilated. One of the most criminal instances of oppression against women – Stalinist Romania under Ceauşescu – left some 10,000 women killed and many more mutilated. But the death toll could be actually higher, since the real cause of death was in many cases hidden. This documentary explains how women who ended up in hospitals with infections, and who refused to betray the people who helped them have a state-forbidden abortion, were left to die in sheer pain, as doctors were not allowed to treat them.

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Banning abortion is unsafe and deadly for women, since the bureaucrats are simply incapable of understanding that giving birth is not necessarily between the woman and the fetus, but between the woman and the society. Society is built on the oppression of women, which is enforced through traditional, educational, cultural, and institutional misogyny. Rape culture and sexism are sometimes even internalized by women themselves, and passed on as a traditional or family value.

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Capitalist society oppresses women, sometimes mercilessly if they give birth out of wedlock. Many times in unspeakably cruel ways, like in the case of a 14-year-old Polish girl who got pregnant after she was raped. She could have had unhindered access to safe abortion, but was forced to put her life in mortal danger after harassment from pro-“life” (read christian fundamentalist) groups led to her being turned away from hospitals. This repression driven by the “perfect woman” norm is partially responsible for the sufferings endured by sexual minorities too, including lesbians, transgendered people, and homosexuals.

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The law was instigated by the Catholic Church, whose traditional hatred towards women’s liberties always gets an expression in the laws the State enforces. But the Catholic Church speaks from a position of minority in power – according to an Eurobarometer from 2008, only 3% of Spaniards consider religion as one of their three most important values, while the European average is 7%. A recent poll showed that nearly 80% of Spaniards are against the new anti-abortion, anti-women law.

15MBcn_int on Twitter explained this cartoon: “Since you don’t believe in sins, we’ll make them become crimes.”

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Then what is it that makes the Church’s marginal voice so powerful? Part of it is a century long tradition of repression towards women, which was reimposed during the Franco era. Some of it might have survived, even if the statistics can’t express it. But it’s not just this. It’s the fact that the government in Spain is a shameless mouthpiece – very bizarre one, indeed, even for believers – of the Catholic Church. Recently, the interior minister, Jorge Fernández Diaz, made headlines when he said that he was certain that Saint Teresa was “making important intercessions” for Spain “during these tough times.

It’s not like he’s the first conservative politician who has conversations with the divinity which later end up in bloodshed. (Remember George W. Bush, aka Dubbya’s conversations with God: “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.” God was so good for business.)

Stéphane M. Grueso twitted this was the conservative government’s alternative to women’s march for liberties:

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But unlike other countries, in Spain they know better. Amaiur, a left-wing party from the Basque country, immediately asked for official explanations. They asked the government in a letter for clarifications about the help the Spanish government was getting from the holy figure. “In what ways does the minister of the interior think Saint Teresa of Avila is interceding on behalf of Spain? Does the government believe there are other divine and supernatural interventions affecting the current state of Spain? If so, who are they?” – asked Jon Iñarritu García of Amaiur. And he also asked the employment minister, Fátima Báñez, who last year praised the Virgin of El Rocío for helping Spain recover: “What role has the Virgin of El Rocío played in helping Spain exit the crisis?” (A quarter of people are unemployed in Spain).

These are sarcastic questions, but there is a dead serious one that a Basque politician was as blunt as possible about: “Does the government believe they are respecting the secular nature of the state? Does the government plan to push for a religious state?” In this context, the women’s fight for their liberties is not concerning just them, but the entire society which has a long history of sufferings inflicted by the church.

Source of this illustration here.

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Women in Europe know that once a State opens the gates to the their re-enslavement, hell will follow. Why do capitalists always resort to wage war against women?

Silvia Federici explained in “Caliban and the Witch,” that the State’s terrorism against women has a century long tradition in Europe and that it is actually in the logic of capitalism. Sadly the discussion about women’s rights carefully avoids the root of the problem. Unless women understand this, they won’t be able to defend themselves. Here’s an excerpt from this book, which can be read here:

“As Eli Hecksher noted,“an almost fanatical desire to increase population prevailed in all countries during the period when mercantilism was at its height, in the later part of the 17th century.” Along with it, a new concept of human beings also took hold, picturing them as just raw materials, workers and breeders for the state. But even prior to the heyday of mercantile theory, in France and England the state adopted a set of pro-natalist measures that, combined with Public Relief, formed the embryo of a capitalist reproductive policy.”

“Laws were passed that put a premium on marriage and penalized celibacy, modeled on those adopted by the Late Roman Empire for this purpose. The family was given a new importance as the key institution providing for the transmission of property and the reproduction of the workforce.

Simultaneously, we have the beginning of demographic recording and the intervention of the state in the supervision of sexuality, procreation, and family life.

But the main initiative that the state took to restore the desired population the launching of a true war against women clearly aimed at breaking the control they had exercised over their bodies and reproduction. This war was waged primarily through the witch-hunt that literally demonized any form of birth-control and non-procreative sexuality, while charging women with sacrificing children to the devil.  But it also relied on the redefinition of what constitutes a reproductive crime. Thus, starting in the mid-16th century, while Portuguese ships were returning from Africa with their first human cargoes, all the European governments began to impose the severest penalties against contraception, abortion and infanticide. This last practice had been treated with some leniency in the Middle Ages, at least in the case of poor women; but now it was turned into a capital crime, and positioned more harshly than the majority of male crimes.”

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“New forms of surveillance were also adopted to ensure that pregnant women did not terminate their pregnancies. In France, a royal edict of 1556 required women to register every pregnancy, and sentenced to death those whose infants died before baptism after a concealed delivery, whether or not proven guilty of any wrongdoing. Similar statutes were passed in England and Scotland in 1624 and 1690. A system of spies was also created to survey unwed mothers and deprive them of any support. Even hosting an unmarried pregnant woman was made illegal, for fear that she might escape the public scrutiny; while those who befriended her were exposed to public criticism.”

Sign reads: “Free abortion for women to choose!

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“As a consequence women began to be prosecuted in large numbers and were executed for infanticide in 16th and 17th-century Europe more than for any other crime.With the marginalization of the midwife, the process began by which women lost the control they had exercised over procreation, and were reduced to a passive role in child delivery, while male doctors came to be seen as the true “givers of life” (as in the alchemical dreams of the Renaissance magicians).”

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“In France and Germany, midwives had to become spies for the state, if they wanted to continue their practice. They were expected to report all new births, discover the fathers of children born out-of-wedlock, and examine the women suspected of having secretly given birth.”

“The same type of collaboration was demanded of relatives and neighbors. In Protestant countries and towns, neighbors were supposed to spy on women and report all relevant sexual details: if a woman received a man when her husband was away, or if she entered in house with a man and shut the door behind her. In Germany, the pro-natalist crusade reached such a point that women were punished if they did not make enough of an effort during child-delivery or showed little enthusiasm for their offspring.

The outcome of these policies that lasted for two centuries was the enslavement of women to procreation. While in the Middle Ages women had been able to use various forms of contraceptives, and had exercised an undisputed control over the birthing process, from now on their wombs became public territory, controlled by men and the State and procreation was directly placed at the service of capitalist accumulation.

Sign reads: “Free abortion so women don’t die.”

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In this sense, the destiny of West European women, in the period of primitive accumulation, was similar to that of female slaves in the American colonial plantations, who especially after the end of the slave-trade in 1807, were forced by their masters to become breeders of new workers. The comparison has obviously serious limits. European women were not openly delivered to sexual assaults — though proletarian women could be raped with impunity and punished for it.  Nor had they to suffer the agony of seeing their children taken away and sold on the auction block. The economic profit derived from the births imposed upon them was also far more concealed. In this sense, it is the condition of the enslaved women that most explicitly reveals the truth and the logic of capitalist accumulation. But despite the differences, in both cases, the female body was turned into an instrument for the reproduction of labor and the expansion of the work-force, treated as a natural breeding-machine,  functioning according to rhythms outside of women’s control.”

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Italian feminist song from 1971, “Aborto di Stato” (State abortion):

 

 

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Jennifer Baker is the founder and editor of Revolution News Contact us with inquiries, tips, corrections at revnewsmedia@gmail.com