The Spanish far-right's strategies to oppose women's rights and social advances
The struggle for women's rights has always generated reactionary waves from all those who refuse to question their privileges, relinquish power and unsettle the patriarchal structures on which capitalism is based. The far right, intent on reversing social policies and agreements on human rights as well as halting any progress being made, has put into action a whole raft of strategies being implemented across the globe.
In Spain, opposition to feminism used to be rooted mainly in a religious and conservative tradition, particularly opposed to abortion and homosexual marriage, and in favour of the "traditional family". In recent years other groups within the extreme right have been emerging, from parties with an institutional presence such as Vox, to neo-Nazi and incel groups, and movements that have emerged on social networks. The impact of misogynistic youtubers and self-declared influencers should be taken into account, as they build their careers and make a fruitful business out of insulting, intimidating and harassing feminists, releasing continuous fake news cycles. The misinformation and campaigns spread by these new actors often end up shaping the public debate and even reach mainstream media. They have also been noted for their relentless campaign against the Ministry of Equality, leading women within the ministry, and the social, gender and reproductive policies it has put in place.
Even so, a broad feminist movement has managed to establish widely shared positions, situating itself as both a barrier and a brake to the extreme right. As a broad, cross-cutting movement with considerable influence in the public and political spheres, it has been able to establish a basic social consensus around the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people. The achievement of these rights and related laws, though, prompts countless misogynists to rush out of their caves every time the issues of gender violence, sexual aggression and consent are raised.
This direct confrontation against feminism and feminists — attacking every action, demonstration or law representing an advance in women's and LGBTQ+ rights — is further complemented by their use of other strategies.
One of these is to exploit the pain of the victims of gender violence in order to introduce punitive solutions to a structural problem they refuse to acknowledge, instead demanding harsher sentences or even the death penalty. Another of the far right’s strategies is the racialization of sexual violence and toxic masculinity, or ‘machismo’. To this end, they never fail to amplify the news of rapes or assaults perpetrated by migrants or racialized people, and do not hesitate to spread fake news, often blaming them for assaults that they have not committed, continually alluding to a supposed rape culture imported from other world regions, mainly African and Middle Eastern, which endangers "Spanish women". Thus some of the measures they have proposed to end violence against women are border closures and the deportation of migrants.
In the last few years in Spain there have been three particular cases of sexual assault that have unleashed waves of social indignation and feminist protests as well as widespread response and condemnation. These are "la Manada" (the Wolf Pack) case, the Arandina football club case, both gang rapes, and the recent "Rubiales" case. The response of the far right in these cases is significant in that it demonstrates their position towards these type of crimes.
The so-called Wolf Pack case began with the gang rape of a 18-year-old woman on July 2016 during the San Fermín celebrations in Pamplona. Among the Five perpetrators, were a member of the Civil Guard and another of the Military Emergency Unit of the Spanish Army. While committing the crime, the men filmed themselves repeatedly. In addition to the aggressors, other individuals were tried and convicted for harassing the victim and publishing her personal data. The Spanish Data Protection Agency confirmed that her identity had been spread on social networks as well as on several forums and popular right-wing extremist websites. After these sites were forced to delete the information, US neo-Nazi and extreme right websites continued promoting mob attacks upon the victim and published her personal data.
In February 2020, a neo-Nazi activist from Valladolid was sentenced to two years in prison for spreading images of the rape and the victim's face on his personal Twitter account. Also sentenced to three years in prison was Josele Sánchez, director of the ultra-right-wing digital newspaper La Tribuna de Cartagena, for defamation along with a conviction for disclosure of protected data in an article entitled “Yo no te creo” (I don't believe you). In the article, in addition to denigrating the victim, he published information such as her name, address, national identity document, her studies at the university, and two photographs, one of which showed the victim during the sexual assault.
After the sentencing, the leader of Vox in Andalusia, Francisco Serrano, made statements in which he said things such as: "It is clear that this is a sentence imposed by the supremacist feminist mob", and "A man losing his erection or not living up to a woman's expectations could land him in prison", or "This is extremely serious. It is a direct torpedo against heterosexuality, against free relations between men and women. A progressive liberticide", even stating that "The safest relationship between a man and a woman will only be through prostitution". It should be noted that Serrano is a judge on leave of absence and in the aftermath of the scandal caused by his statements his own party was forced to disassociate itself from him. In the end the judge left the party after being charged for an alleged misuse of public funds of 2.5 million euros.
On the back of all this, Vox tried to get the Wolf Pack’s lawyer to join them, by his own account, after he went on television to speak about the gender violence law.
After the conviction in the Arandina case in which in 2017 three Arandina players raped a 15-year-old girl in Arandina de Duero, Vox activist Bertrand Ndongo took the opportunity to attack the gender violence law as "criminal and unconstitutional", saying it "does not respect equality before the law for all citizens". In addition, he made statements such as, "The law forsakes my sons, it always listens to these girls, and it will never listen to my sons. She will always be right and he will always be the bad guy", and, "I have three sons and today I woke up feeling that any woman can ruin their lives whenever she wants". About the 15-year-old victim, he said, "You can't talk about a minor" because "if you look at the behaviour of many of them, you’d be appalled. They drink alcohol, they smoke, and look at their Instagram accounts: asses in the air, thongs, stories about hot guys; outrageous stuff. But then when something happens, they call them minors".
Alonso de Mendoza, one of Vox’s Madrid candidates for the Spanish parliament, posted a tweet with the following content: "though she may be a minor, that girl is a harpy, just like her mother, who prefers to have three innocent men in jail rather than admit that she has raised a whore". In this case, as in the case of the Wolf Pack, the victim's private data and personal audios were leaked on social networks by Cristina Seguí, an extreme right-wing influencer and one of the founders of Vox. The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) ordered Seguí to delete the tweets in which she had inserted the video, as the name of one of the minors and the first surname of another was mentioned, the Instagram username of one of the victims appeared, and the faces of two of the girls could be seen. Seguí deleted the video and uploaded it again with the girls' faces pixelated but with content that still allowed them to be identified. She was reported for this and an investigation was carried out into whether this constituted a crime against privacy and a hate crime.
In 2019, during the electoral debate in which he put himself forward as a candidate for the presidency of the government, the leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal stated "you know you talk about packs, and we have learned the names and details here of a pack of Spaniards in 2016, but after that pack, there have been more than 100 packs in Spain and 70% of those charged are foreigners". These statements have been proven to be false, as there is no official data compiling multiple or group sexual aggressions, neither is there data breaking down these crimes by nationality. Instead, the data that existed at the time, in the 2017 report on crimes against sexual freedom and indemnity in Spain by the Ministry of the Interior (where crimes of sexual abuse, assault or harassment are collated among others) indicated that 70.1% of the detainees were Spanish and 29.9% were foreigners, but there is no data on rape by multiple attackers.
It is common for his party to spread messages highlighting crimes committed or allegedly committed by migrants. In mid-2021, after news of a gang rape appeared in the press, the following message was published from Vox's official social networks:
“The Zaragoza wolf pack. The TV stations won’t make any special programmes, we won’t see their faces and the left won’t hold demonstrations because they are not Spanish. Expel them and let them serve their sentence in their own country!”
After a sexual assault in Cordoba, they published the following:
“New gang rape by immigrants. This time in Cordoba. These are the consequences of the uncontrolled immigration promoted by the government. Will the government feminists demand the expulsion of foreign gangs?”
Statements like these, which unfailingly appear every time a news item involving immigrants comes out, whether it is true or merely racist fake news, makes the difference in treatment between some cases and others clear, along with the real objective of using violence against women to criminalize immigration, and to spread racist discourse.
In the Rubiales case, in which the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation grabbed and kissed a female player on the mouth without consent after her team won the female World Cup on 20th August 2023, another wave of indignation was unleashed, countered once again by an attack from these conservative and right-wing factions. Despite the existence of a video in which the facts are clearly visible, a violent campaign against feminism and against the complainant, who has been harassed even in the street, unleashed. An example of this is the extreme-right online agitator known as Alvise, who is well known for his endless stream of campaigns against feminists. Alvise has repeatedly spread messages about the victim, denigrating and harassing her, posting private photos and videos of her with her family and friends in an attempt to discredit her.
In this case, in took Vox 10 days to make a statement, and they did so to defend the president of the Federation and call for the resignation of the government: "We denounce the political and media witch hunt to which Mr. Rubiales is being personally subjected," the party said in a statement. As Rubiales himself did in his first public statements, they branded the reaction of the Jenni Hermoso as "false feminism". The far-right party "Hacer Nación" agreed with Vox, declaring how the controversy was generated by Sánchez's government to hide Spain’s bigger problems. Abascal's party stated that it "Will always support the real victims of violence" and that they consider themselves "the only party that demands the maximum penalties for their aggressors as opposed to those who back them and release them from prison while making speeches that only serve to divide and pit us against each other".
All this makes it clear how on the one hand they call for severe penalties for aggressors, but at the same time publicly discredit complaints made about rape or sexual abuse. Nor do they believe the victims when they report aggressions. They speak of revisable life imprisonment for murderers, but deny gender violence and its systemic roots and oppose all measures adopted to try to stop it, as the laws and courts dealing with it, and the tributes to women victims of feminicide, which are often boycotted by their party members. The extreme right plays within the framework of punitivism, in which the only proposal is to increase sentences, and cases are seen as isolated crimes, thus denying the structural character of gender violence. Violence against women is only recognized when it can be instrumentalized to attack immigration and racialized people. They propose to build fences to stop migrants, whom they accuse of being responsible for rape and violence against women, but at the same time attack and question the victims when the perpetrators are European or Spanish.
The situation in which we find ourselves, with Vox forming part of the governments of the Valencian Country, Castile and León, the Balearic Islands, Andalusia and Murcia is especially worrying. In addition to this, their program for the national elections includes repealing the laws against gender violence, transgender laws and the abortion law and the elimination of the Courts of Violence against Women, which they define as "irregular courts based on the sex of the aggressor or the victim", as well as eliminating the Ministry of Equality.
It should be remembered that as this article goes to press, 49 women have been murdered as a result of gender violence in Spain so far this year, reaching the same number as the total of the entire year of 2022.
Nora Rodríguez, is a criminal lawyer specialized in hate crimes. She has participated in several campaigns, as well as in research and monitoring of Spanish far-right groups. She is the co-author of the publication De los neocon a los neonazis. La extrema derecha en el Estado español (Neo-con, neo-Francoists and neo-Nazis. Tracking the Spanish Far Right), published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
Miquel Ramos, is a journalist specialized in the extreme right and hate speech. He was the editor of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s publication Neo-con, neo-Francoists and neo-Nazis. Tracking the Spanish Far Right and author of the book Antifascistas. Así se combatió a la extrema derecha española desde los años 90 (Antifascists: Fighting the Spanish Far Right since the 1990s).
Translation and proofreading by Jennie Gant and Maggie Schmitt from Zenobia Traducciones.
 Incels (acronym for "involuntary celibates") are heterosexual men who blame women and society for their lack of romantic success and their inability to engage in sexual relations. Their misogyny is based on a profound sense of grievance against women and the belief that women hold too much power in society.
 The Courts of Violence against Women were created in 2004 under Zapatero (PSOE) government. They are jurisdictional bodies that specifically investigate criminal acts derived from gender violence, i.e., those committed by a man against his marital or de facto partner or against a woman with whom he has a similar and stable relationship, even if they do not live together.