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(en) Mujeres Libres

From Workers Solidarity Movement <wsm_news@geocities.com>
Date Tue, 21 Jul 1998 13:16:51 +0100
Organization http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/wsm.html

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

   Mujeres Libres

Mujeres Libres (Free Women) were a group of women
anarchists who organised and fought both for women's
liberation and an anarchist revolution during the
Spanish Civil War. The work they did is truly
inspirational. Their example shows how the struggle
against women's oppression and against capitalism
can be combined in one fight for freedom.

As anarchists they rejected any relegation of women
to a secondary position within the libertarian
movement. In the 1930's feminism had a narrower
meaning than it does now, and they rejected it as a
theory which fought for 'equality of women within an
existing system of privileges'. They argued "We are
not, and were not then feminists. We were not
fighting against men. We did not want to substitute
a feminist hierarchy for a masculine one. It's
necessary to work, to struggle, together because if
we don't we'll never have a social revolution. But
we needed our own organisation to struggle for

They said: "We are aware of the precedents set by
both feminist organisations and by the political
parties... We could not follow either of these
paths. We could not separate the women's problem
from the social problem. Nor could we deny the
significance of the first by converting women into a
simple instrument for any organisation, even.. our
own libertarian organisation.

The intention that underlay our activities was much
broader: to serve a doctrine, not a party, to
empower women to make of them individuals capable of
contributing to the structuring of the future
society, individuals who have learned to be self-
determining, not to follow blindly the dictates of
any organisation".

Mujeres Libres had a two pronged strategy, of
capacitacion (preparing), and captacion
(incorporation or participation). Their early work
was a combination of consciousness raising and
direct action.

In order to gain mutual support, they created
networks of women anarchists. Attending meetings
with one another, they checked out reports of sexist
behaviour and worked out how to deal with it. Flying
day-care centres were set up in efforts to involve
more women in union activities.

A journal was produced, distributed and advertised
via existing anarchist networks. In it women
reported on what work they were actually doing.
Consciousness raising was important, every issue had
an article about exceptional women, and they also
published a column in other anarchist magazines. In
addition their journal printed articles on cultural
themes, on education, on movies, on sport. Finally
there were articles that would have been seen in any
women's magazine, on the value of gas, on childcare,
on fashion. Later on books and pamphlets would
supplement the journal.

Propaganda work was carried out via radio
broadcasts, travelling libraries and propaganda
tours. One member, Pepita, described her experience
on propaganda trips: "We would call the women
together and explain to them... that there is a
clearly defined role for women, that women should
not lose their independence, but that a women can be
a mother and a companera at the same time...

Young women would come over to me and say "This is
very interesting. What you're saying we've never
heard before. It's something that we've felt, but we
didn't know"... The ideas that grabbed them the
most? Talk about the power men exercised over
women... There would be a kind of uproar when you
would say to them, "We cannot permit men to think
themselves superior to women, that they have a right
to rule over them". I think that Spanish women were
waiting anxiously for that call".

Many of Spain's workers and peasants were
illiterate. In response, the women of Mujeres Libres
set up literacy programmes, technically oriented
classes, and classes in social studies. Between 600-
800 women were attending these classes each day in
Barcelona in December 1938. In co-operation with the
anarchist unions they sent up apprenticeship

Hand in hand with producing propaganda came the day-
to-day work necessary to defend their revolution
from fascist attack. They supplied food to the
militias and set up community dining rooms. They
organised support for women in the militias, setting
up shooting ranges and target practice classes. They
set up a school for nurses and an emergency medical
clinic to treat those injured in the fighting.

Teresina, despite her lack of experience in the
medical field was named administrator. Here she
speaks with pride of her role "I remember how many
times fathers would come up to me in the clinic to
request something, and I would say. "Please, here
all of us are equals" And they would say to me,
"Here, you really have made the revolution." I had
such satisfaction from this. Because I administered
the whole thing without any education... What I
believed, that's what I put in practice there... and
that's what I can tell you of what I did for the
revolution. The rest, I did what everyone else did.
But this was something I did".

However the revolution was more than defeating
fascism, it was about building a new society which
cared for the needs of all. Travelling through
Catalonia and Aragon members of Mujeres Libres
helped to establish rural collectives. Many women
went with representatives of the anarchist union
(CNT) and the anarchist federation (FAI) with
makeshift loud speakers calling on peasants to "come
over to our side".

In Barcelona they ran a lying-in hospital, which
provided birth and post-natal care for women, as
well as classes on child and maternal health, birth
control and sexuality. An institute of Maternal and
Childcare, named after the French anarchist, Louise
Michel, was set up in Barcelona in February 1938.

Mujeres Libres provide a living example of many
important aspects of anarchist theory. Firstly, they
understood that the collective is only as strong as
the individuals that make it up. In order to build a
strong anarchist movement, they encouraged and
supported women to fulfil their full potential.
Indeed many members of Mujeres Libres were only 13
or 14 years old when the revolution started. Yet,
like Teresina above, they discovered that they did
have the ability to undertake the challenging task
of building a new world.

Secondly Mujeres Libres understood the importance of
direct action and self-activity, both in making
revolutionaries and making a revolution. They didn't
make an artificial distinction between propaganda
and organising, between ideas and action. Their
ideas were formed by their experiences on the

Finally, the Mujeres Libres showed that ideas are
never set in stone, to be implemented when the right
time comes. Their ideas grew and developed, changed
and became influential.

Revolution is a messy business. In order to change
society fundamentally, long held ideas about what is
normal and natural have to be challenged. New
revolutionaries and a new revolutionary society will
result from the arguments and debates that are held
in many different places - the home, the
supermarket, the pub - by many different people.

Mujeres Libres saw the revolution as far more than a
single overnight event. It is also a process,
continually changing, as disagreements are resolved,
and new disputes are identified. They showed that
revolution, far from being a dry academic endeavour
is like life; never simple and straightforward, but

Aileen O'Carroll
This article is from Workers Solidarity No. 54, more articles from
this issue are sent to the Ainriail list and can also be found at

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