Madrid Election Talk: Gender inequality, domestic violence and reproductive rights

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Author: Eve Willis

The pandemic hasn’t affected everyone equally. In fact, it has exacerbated and deepened pre-existing inequalities. During lockdown last year, Madrid alone recorded a 37% increase in calls to its regional helpline for gender violence. Due to the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, women in the capital have evidently been disproportionately affected in comparison with their male counterparts.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the current President of the Community of Madrid, has done little to challenge the structural gender inequality that endures in the region. Her current policies to tackle gender inequality and gender-based violence (GBV) are at best vague and non-committal and at worst negligently violent towards women, especially those from minority communities.

During the height of the pandemic, from March to July 2020, Madrid’s 016 helpline received 9,665 calls, with 1,610 of them from first-time callers.

In an epidemic that has seized Europe, France reports that calls jumped 400% in the first month of lockdown, while calls to the England and Wales official domestic abuse helpline have risen by 61% in the last year. This tragically highlights how women can be most unsafe when surrounded by those closest to them. Yet the performative policies of Ayuso’s PP seek only to co-opt a women’s rights discourse while demonstrating little commitment to eradicating gender-based violence in Madrid.

The PP manifesto states that “domestic violence is a scourge of our society” and that her government is “continuing to fight with all of their resources”. Yet the proposed policies offer no more solutions other than vague promises and “therapy dogs” for victims of GBV.

Meanwhile, the PSOE has proposed extensive measures to tackle gender-based violence. These include reinforcing the existing funds dedicated to gender equality, providing housing to victims, guaranteeing spaces in residential homes to those over the age of 65 who are in abusive relationships, and setting up teams of psychologists to provide 24-hour support to victims of gender-based violence. Furthermore, the PSOE’s Gabilondo has plans to create educational programmes in Madrid’s public schools to counteract the harmful views and stereotypes that drive gender-based violence and sexual assault.

Vox, however, calls for the complete repeal of the Integral Law against Gender Violence (LIVG) – a terrifying thought for the many individuals who have relied upon the protections and resources that this law provides.

It is clear that the PP’s view of gender-based violence, considering it to be individual bad behaviour rather than a symptom of wider structural gender inequalities, is extremely harmful. On International Women’s Day 2021, Ayuso called 8 March “the Day of the Woman infected [by Covid-19]”, referring to the small protests being super-spreader evenings and blatantly disregarding IWD as an opportunity to recognise the unequal impact that the pandemic has had upon Madrileñxs and its gendered consequences.

Women in work.

Women have undoubtedly been unequally affected by the pandemic, which has exacerbated by deeply embedded inequalities, including those in the labour market. In September 2020, out of the 206,575 unemployed people, 115,939 were women and 90,636 were men.

Women in the workforce are more likely to have precarious, low-paid and more risky work than men – for example, 71.4% of sanitation and public service roles in Madrid are fulfilled by women.

The right’s answer to job insecurity and unemployment includes a range of initiatives aimed at bolstering the presence of women in leadership roles, although they give very few details as to how this will be achieved. Meanwhile, the PSOE has devised tangible measures such as access programmes to the labour market for women from minority groups such as the gitano community.

Reproductive rights.

During her time as the regional president of Madrid, Ayuso has not invested in women’s health unless it has been to reinforce the traditional notions of family. Accordingly, she has sought to hinder access to contraception and abortion services.

In her manifesto, she sets out a plan to “give alternatives to pregnant women” in order to avoid abortions altogether. This approach prioritises the archaic notion of traditional families over the provision of safe and accessible healthcare for women.

The left-wing parties PSOE, Podemos and Más Madrid all set out measures to amplify and improve existing sexual and reproductive health facilities, as well as policies aimed at tackling period poverty.

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This article was written by Eve Willis, a graduate of Spanish and Politics from the University of Surrey, whose interests include sustainability, gender issues, politics and historical memory. You can find her on Instagram at @evexplorando.

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