‘If women stop, the world stops:’ Women choose not to work for ‘feminist strike’

Thousands of women are refusing to work, boycotting domestic tasks and occupying the streets around the world as part of a global strike on International Women’s Day.

A year on from “A Day Without a Woman,” which saw women across the United States boycotting paid and unpaid labor to highlight the impact of women on society, people around the world responded to the call for a global women’s strike on Thursday.

Strikes are going ahead in several European countries, with the movement gaining the most traction in Spain, where the gender pay gap is 19% in the private sector and where reports of violence against women are on the rise.

“Today we claim a society free of oppression, exploitation and sexual violence,” said the organizers of the nation’s first “feminist strike” in their manifesto. “We call for rebellion and the struggle against the alliance between patriarchy and capitalism that wants us to be docile, submissive and silent.”

Twenty-four hours of strikes and rallies kicked off at midnight in the capital Madrid. Protesters gathered at the central square banging pots and pans as the city council buildings behind them were lit up in purple, the official color of #IWD2018.

As light dawned, demonstrators began gathering in cities across the country to call for an end to unequal pay and precarious working conditions, and to draw attention to the role of women in “devalued” domestic labor.

“I am here to prove that if women stop, the world stops,” said Ines Arias, a university administrator, who joined hundreds of others to demonstrate in Madrid’s university district. “Because we do much more than working.”

Men had also come along to show their support.

“We need to change the laws, but also the culture, the society we have created,” said Roberto Guerra, a union representative at the National University of Distance Education. “I am here for my female colleagues, my friends, my neighbors, for society.”

Hundreds of students from the city’s universities soon joined the protest, shouting, “Don’t bring me flowers, bring me rights,” “No means no, the rest is rape” and “Madrid will be sexism’s grave.”

In a seated protest, they blocked two lanes of a central thoroughfare as police directed traffic around them.

“We have to get rid of the idea that the women can do everything, that we can work but we also have to tend to the house,” said Paloma Morillas, a 19-year-old physics student. “Housework has to be shared.”

The “8 March Commission” — the umbrella group organizing Thursday’s strike — is also inviting women to spend no money for a day to highlight their power as consumers.

Fifteen demonstrations and more than 100 gatherings are scheduled in locations across the country.

Most of the country’s unions are backing the walkout and called for a 24-hour strike, while two of the biggest — the General Union of Workers (UGT) and the Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) — have asked their members to stop work for two hours.

More than five million people joined the two-hour strike, according to UGT and CCOO.

Unai Sordo from CCOO said about 10,000 people demonstrated in central Madrid, with another 2,000 students marching through the university district in a separate protest. In Barcelona, 7,500 protesters assembled in Sant Jaume square for the strike, according to a spokesperson for the local government.

Some of the country’s top politicians are backing the strike, including Manuela Carmena and Ada Colau, the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, respectively.

The ruling People’s Party does not support the movement, however, with Minister of Defense Maria Dolores Cospedal speaking out against the strike earlier this week.

Minister of Health, Social Services and Equality Dolors Montserrat also questioned the usefulness of a women-only strike and defended those who are choosing to continue working.

“The feminine evolution belongs to everyone, including men, but each person does it in their own way,” she said in an interview with radio station Cadena SER.

According to a survey last week by Spanish newspaper El Pais, 82% of Spaniards believe there are sufficient reasons for the strike, with 72% of men agreeing that sexist behavior is widespread in the country.

By dusk, thousands of women in the Spanish capital again flooded the streets, gathering at the Plaza de Cibeles in central Madrid.

Nine-year-old Indira Bravo donned a purple scarf and marched with her mom. She said she was demonstrating “so when I am older, everyone is the same.”

Student Aisling Martinez, 18, carried a “justice” sign with her as she marched. “I would like to go out when I want, and dressed how I want — and not feel like a piece of meat,” she said.

While Spain is seeing some of the largest walkouts, women in many other countries around the world were also on strike. Feminist group Non Una Di Meno has planned strikes and demonstrations in around 40 cities in Italy, with two of the country’s largest unions offering their support.

The 24-hour general strike — organized around the hash tag #WetTooGether — is disrupting local and national transport networks, with around 130 flights canceled and Rome’s bus, tram and subway services severely reduced.

“On 8 March, we cross our arms, interrupting every productive and reproductive activity,” Non Una Di Meno announced.

Acknowledging that striking is a challenge for many people due to lost wages and fear of repercussions, the group called for solidarity among all women.

“We demand a radical transformation of society: We strike against economic violence, precariousness and discrimination.”

Women in the UK and Ireland are showing their solidarity by demonstrating in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Derry, and using the hash tag #WeStrike.

London-based artist and teacher Clare Qualmann used Twitter to document her boycott of unpaid domestic labor.

Protests are expected to continue across the continent, with a major rally planned in central Madrid late Thursday.