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(en) Britain, The Anarchist Federation (AFED), RESISTANCE #157 - Free Women of Spain

Date Tue, 04 Nov 2014 14:17:20 +0200


The story of Mujeres Libres (Free Women) an organisation of thirty thousand women that emerged in the Anarchist movement in Spain in 1936. ---- Spain in the 1930s was a society riddled with ideas of male superiority and the cult of machismo.* ---- Spain had a mass anarchist movement organised in the Anarcho-Syndicalist union, the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo(CNT) which at its height organised as many as two million members, the specific anarchist organisation the FAI ( Federacion Anarquista Iberica), the Libertarian Youth (FIJL) which organised many young workers and the various free schools and ateneos which organised literacy programmes, as well as free libraries, plays, and general education. The aim of the Anarchists in the Civil War was to emancipate all and institute a free society, without exploitation or hierarchy, where each person worked according to ability, received back according to need and had equal power and a direct say over social and political life.

Women entered the CNT when the CNT started organising in the textile industry. In addition, the CNT also began organising among domestic servants and maids, where girls as young as ten were employed by the middle classes and the rich. Some women came to the fore in the early days of the CNT and were inspiring figures for emancipation and for anarchism. However, traditional macho values were still very dominant in Spanish society. This included in the Anarchist and Syndicalist movement which, whilst it talked about the emancipation and liberation of all and the end of hierarchies, in practice held back the liberation of women. It re-created old structures which oppressed women without challenging them.

Illiteracy and lack of education were big problems for working class women in Spain as they were for the whole of the working class.

Triple Enslavement

Some women activists of the anarchist movement, including Lucia Sanchez Saornil, Mercedes Comoposada and Amparo Poch y Gascon did not want to wait for the Revolution to free everyone before they acted. They started a magazine, Mujeres Libres, which proved to be hugely popular. Its aim was to educate women “and to provide them with information about politics so they could become involved in anarchist activities, and it also served to give women professional training so they would have better employment opportunities”. Soon the magazine linked up with other anarchist women in other parts of Spain and they began to think about creating a women’s organisation. Their aim was to fight against what they saw as the triple enslavement of women, enslavement to ignorance (lack of access to education and literacy), enslavement to capitalism and hierarchy, and enslavement to men.

One of the key ideas was the need for women to organise in a specific organisation to combat ideas of sexism and machismo in general AND in the anarchist movement. They concentrated on the connections between class, cultural and sexual oppression. They worked for integration of women into the workforce through apprenticeship and employment programmes, the education of women and consciousness raising so that women could feel confident and assertive, through propaganda tours, radio, travelling libraries, the struggle against sexist behaviour including in their own movement, the development of crèches and childcare centres in the neighbourhood and in the workplace, the development of hospitals with birth and postnatal facilities. The emergence of Mujeres Libres was an important development. All at once women began to question their role in an extremely oppressive society.

Mujeres Libres failed to have a complete view of sexist division of labour where often women were confined to domestic roles and the rigidity of sex roles where women bore the sole responsibility for raising children. Abortion and birth control were not discussed as much as they should have been, though if the Spanish Revolution had not been crushed by the forces of General Franco this might well have come more to the fore. They did insist on the need for an independent women’s anarchist organisation and refused to disappear into the various committees and sub-committees of the CNT.

The History of Mujeres Libres is extremely important if we want to move forward and destroy hierarchies in every sphere of life.

*Machismo - “a strong sense of masculine pride...[with] the supreme valuation of characteristics culturally associated with the masculine and a denigration of characteristics associated with the feminine." Merriam -Webster Dictionary
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