Madrid – Two decades ago Ana Orantes gripped Spain when she recounted during a prime-time television interview the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband for 40 years.
Thirteen days later her ex killed her by setting her ablaze.
“I had to put up with it because I had nowhere to go. I had to put up with beating after beating,” Orantes recalled during the interview.
She also told how she had filed 15 complaints against him without ever receiving any protection for herself or her eight children, and how after finally winning a divorce, the judge nevertheless forced her to live with her abuser.
Her brutal murder in 1997 shocked Spain and it spurred the government into taking action, culminating in the unanimous approval by the Spanish parliament in 2004 of Europe’s first law that specifically cracks down on gender-based violence.
But now the progress in the fight against domestic violence since Orantes’ death is under threat by the rise of anti-feminist far-right party Vox, which has made the repeal of this law one of its top priorities.
Under the law, introduced by a previous Socialist government, victims of gender violence are entitled to free legal aid.
– ‘False’ accusations –
Special courts were established, and public prosecutors can press charges even if the victim does not file a complaint.
The law also enables authorities to require men convicted of violence against their ex-wives and girlfriends to wear electronic bracelets that send a signal to police if they approach their victims.
It had the support of over 80 percent of the population, said Marisa Soleto, the head of the pro-equality Women’s Foundation.
“We would not have achieved half of what we did if the far right was at the level it is now,” she said.
In 2017, Spain’s parliament unanimously passed a series of measures designed to bolster the original law, which came with a five-year budget of one billion euros ($1.1 billion).
And since 2003 the government has kept a tally of the number of women murdered at the hands of a partner or former partner.
After each murder, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sends a tweet condemning it.
But Vox, which entered parliament for the first time in April and surged to third place in the assembly in a repeat election on November 10, argues that the gender violence law “discriminates” against men and encourages “false” accusations of abuse.
– ‘Biggest danger’ –
It wants the law replaced with legislation providing “equal protection” for men, women, children and the elderly in cases of domestic violence.
Vox also calls for the removal of abortion from government-funded health centres and an end to public subsidies for what it calls “radical” feminist organisations.
Such positions are not seen in other far-right parties in western Europe such as France or Italy, Soleto said.
“We must go to Poland to find something a little like it,” she added.
Vox’s stance has also pushed the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) further to the right on the issue amid fears of losing votes to the hard-right party.
“The biggest danger with Vox is that its discourse might be be legitimised by the right,” said Maria Silvestre, a sociology professor at the University of Deusto in Bilbao.
While the PP defends the achievements of the fight against violence against women, “its discourse has hardened in the face of Vox’s one-upmanship”, said feminist journalist Ana Bernal.
PP leader Pablo Casado has called for all victims of violence to be protected “no matter what their gender or age”.
And in a March interview with the monthly women’s magazine Telva, he said: “We should not fall for what the left says of protecting women more and more. What should we do, escort them in the streets?”
By Thomas Perroteau