Spanish elections: Women’s bodies as political battleground

Your body is a battleground

Of the seven main political groups in Spain, none of them has a female head of party, which means that no woman will be running for President in the elections taking place this Sunday.

Despite the fact that, in the past two years, the feminist movement has fiercely reclaimed public spaces and gender issues have broken into the main political scene, there seems to be an unspoken resistance to female leadership.

This post aims to give an alternative vision on the political manifestos, focusing on how women’s bodies are used to gain votes and divide and mobilize electors.

Yet, this is nothing new. There is a long history of male politicians using female bodies to benefit their political agenda (the paradigmatic picture), favouring religious groups’ demands or simply gaining public support through their regulation.

The female body and in particular female reproductive and sexual organs are represented either as a vessel that embodies the moral purity of the country (and therefore must be protected from any deviance coming from society or the woman herself) or as a commodity that can be rented for a variety of purposes.

The intrinsic problem underlying these policies is not only the disregard of woman’s bodily autonomy, but also the lack of understanding that it is unacceptable to depict women as passive bodies in order to fulfil political purposes.

Instead of creating favourable socio-economic and reproductive health policies that would allow women, especially those in conditions of vulnerability, to be in a position where they can make free and informed life choices, politicians opt to legislate on female bodies as it seems easier, less expensive and unfortunately more popular.

Below are the four propositions for the upcoming elections, starting from the left to right wing parties, that impact female bodies:

Abolishment of prostitution

The Socialist party proposes to abolish prostitution as other countries have already done, among them Sweden, Finland and Norway. Currently, sex work is unregulated in Spain, yet trafficking and pimping are criminalized.

Although it is true that many brothels are linked to illegal activities, including human trafficking, these situations must not be equalized. There is an abysmal difference between those women exercising prostitution freely and those that are victims of sexual exploitation.

Besides, the illegalization of the activity, which enjoys a high demand, can be highly detrimental to sex workers. In spite of the law punishing the client or pimp and not the sex worker, it would inevitably lead to riskier situations performed in clandestine conditions and would stigmatize sex workers even more.

Despite the good intentions of the Socialist party and those feminists in favour of this path to combat human trafficking and reject the idea of women as products of consumption, we cannot let public policies lead by ideal aspirations and not on the ground realities.

Regulation of surrogacy pregnancy

Ciudadanos, the self-described liberal party, embrace what they have denominated ‘liberal feminism’. This could be defined as a feminism for privileged white women that rejects the existence of an embedded patriarchal system in institutions and overlooks any kind of intersectional approach to feminism. They aim to copy the altruist surrogacy regimes that are in place in Canada and the UK.

However, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children has warned of the existence of considerable flaws in these practices, in particular surrounding the payments of expenses during the pregnancy. These deals appear even bleaker when looking closely at the conditions of contracts that establish restrictions on the diet and movement of the surrogate women, among other requirements. The legal commodification of women’s bodies in a process that carries so many risks and entails such a heavy physical and psychological burden should not be available.

Policies against abortion

Although not explicitly contained in the political manifesto, the new leader of the Conservative party has decided not only to bring back to the table an issue that does not need to be reopened, but has openly said that ‘if we want pensions, we should think about having more children not about how to abort them’.

These comments arrive after the Conservative’s turn to the right, despite the current regulation of abortion being widely accepted by Spanish society and the last conservative government having dropped their initiative to modify the existing law.

Dismantlement of mechanisms dedicated to aid women victims of gender-based violence

This is the most despicable of all the initiatives. The far-right party, Vox, has explicitly accused women of filing false domestic violence complaints. Their initiative does not deserve to have any attention: their arguments are based on lies and to engage with their controversial measure would be to fall into their trap.

* Unfortunately, political programs are only in Spanish and other regional languages

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