Mayors of Madrid and Barcelona among supporters of walkout on International Women’s Day.
More than 5 million workers have taken part in Spain’s first nationwide “feminist strike”, according to trade unions.
The action, held to mark International Women’s Day, is intended to highlight sexual discrimination, domestic violence and the wage gap.
On Thursday afternoon, the Workers’ Commissions and the Workers’ General Union said that 5.3 million people had participated in two-hour walkouts, describing the action as “an unprecedented strike in our country’s trade union movement”.
The strike, which is being supported by some of Spain’s best-known female politicians – including Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena, and the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau – has drawn huge crowds on to streets and squares across the country to call for change and equality.
Coordinated by an umbrella group, the 8 March Commission, the strike called for an end to Spain’s enduring machista culture.
Under the slogan “If we stop, the world stops”, protesters congregated in cities including Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Seville and Pamplona.
The messages scrawled on placards read: “They took so much away from us that they ended up taking away our fear”; “No woman has an orgasm polishing the kitchen floor”; and “Women’s rights = human rights”.
Demonstrators in Catalonia blocked a railway line and disrupted traffic in central Barcelona. Elsewhere, students and protesters picketed universities and many female journalists chose not to set foot in newsrooms or studios.
A video posted by the newspaper El País showed rows of empty desks, their monitors plastered with signs in support of the strike.
Spain’s health, social services and equality minister, Dolors Montserrat, described Thursday’s action as “a social revolution for men and women”, but stressed that it was not “a war between the sexes”.
Montserrat told the Espejo Público programme that while she was pleased to see so many women exercising their right to protest, it was up to individual women “to decide how they want to strike” or whether they wished to go to work as normal.
Four secondary school students taking part in a demonstration in Barcelona said they had felt compelled to disregard instructions to stay in their classrooms.
“It wouldn’t have been right to stay in school,” Roser, Claudia, Judith and Marta told the online paper eldiario.es. They said sexism was also rife at school.
“They say sexist things as jokes – especially when it comes to domestic work – even though we say that you shouldn’t say things like that even as a joke,” one of the students said. “Yesterday, some boys said they’d come down to the protest with us, but look: it’s just us four.”
Ana Reyes, a 37-year-old PR executive, said she had decided to join the strike in Madrid “in the hope that the importance of half of the population will be recognised and that it will bring about a real change”.
She told AFP the action gave “visibility to the malaise and discrimination we women suffer”.
Carmena, the Madrid mayor, joined a protest outside her office on Thursday morning. “The aim has been achieved,” she tweeted. “This isn’t only about calling for true equality, but also about facing the need to change how the world treats women. It’s about feminism.”
Colau, who has been mayor of Barcelona since 2015, said she was joining the strike “to show that without women the world really does stop”.
She said: “As people in public positions, we have the duty to mobilise on behalf of those who can’t go on strike. This is the century of women and of feminism; we’ve raised our voices and we won’t stop. No more violence, discrimination or pay gap.”
Last year in Spain 49 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners, compared with 44 in 2016. Government statistics a show reports of violent abuse are on the rise: there were 129,193 reports in 2015 and 142,893 in 2016. Complete annual figures for last year are not yet available, but by the end of September 125,769 reports had been logged.
A European commission report last year said the pay gap between men and women in Spain had fallen from 18.1% in 2007 to 14.9% in 2015, while a recent Spanish study found that women on average were paid 12.7% less for doing the same job as male colleagues.
The strike is also intended to show how much domestic and care work women do on a daily basis – by leaving the tasks to men.
A poll for El País this week found that 82% of Spaniards thought there were valid motives for the strike.
On Monday the bishop of San Sebastián, José Ignacio Munilla, said Christianity was opposed to “radical feminism” because it had made victims of women and “the true feminine cause”.