A convinced feminist, Begoña Amunarriz was the first woman to enter the Basque Parliament after the 1980 elections. Tireless fighter in defence of the women’s rights in all scopes of Basque society, her knowledge on the subject has made her a point of reference in the movement for sexual equality.
Your first steps in Politics were taken back in 1979, in the Local Council of San Sebastian...
My first steps in institutional activities, yes. But the truth is that my political activities began much earlier. I would venture to say that its origins stem back to my family environment. I come from a Nationalist family; my father was a Gudari, a Basque Nationalist soldier. Afterwards, he was forced to suffer exile in France and finally ended up in a concentration camp in Spain. Along these same lines, my mother spent two years of her life in prison during the war. As a consequence of this, I was born and brought up during a period of severe repression. People of nationalist tendencies were outlawed, banned from taking part in any type of public activities. As a result, we were forced to develop in a culture of resistance.
My first attempts in political activism were in school. Until the mid 60s, the school I attended had absolutely no Basque teachers. This was because they were sent to other areas, while we were provided with teachers from other regions who not only possessed a total lack of knowledge as to our cultural issues, our way of being, but also demonstrated a profound and unmistakeable belligerence of anything remotely Basque. I myself was punished once for speaking in Euskera with a schoolmate during a break. A new period began for me when a referendum was convened by Franco, with Manuel Fraga Iribarne as a Government Minister, which included activities like the distribution of propaganda, etc. I was finally arrested in Pamplona during the celebration of the “Aberri Eguna” [“Day of the Basque Homeland”]. I participated in protest marches, trials against members of the police force for torture, and so on.
What were the beginnings of your public life like? How was the transit from clandestine activities to public life, and what made you take the decision to do so?
The settings changed substantially in 1975. With Franco’s death, a new situation emerged. Although the Regime wanted to maintain its authority, the majority of us knew that this would not be possible. The CIA was of the same opinion and even sent agents to Euskalherria [the Basque Country] to analyse the situation of the opposition parties. Albeit unknown to me, I provided services as an interpreter to one of these agents, thinking I was aiding a writer who was interested in gathering different testimonies on the war material used by the Nazis in the bombing of the town of Gernika. I afterwards discovered that this person’s objectives were very far from these that I have stated.
At last democracy was dawning, and, at the same time, other changes were beginning to take place which especially affected me as a woman. In 1975, the UNO organized the International Year of the Woman in the city of Mexico. Women’s conditions were in need of urgent and profound changes all over the world. Here in particular, after 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship and his “national-Catholicism”, our situation was especially depressing.
The UNO, in view of the dimension of the situation, established a ten-year-period in order to work on several issues. As Spain needed to prepare a new Constitution, this was the adequate moment for a profound change in the legal status of women. During this period, I combined my activism on two fronts: as a Nationalist, working in favour of a Statute of Autonomy, and as a feminist, trying to obtain a progressive legislation in favour of women that would overcome the condition of inability, always subdued to men, that figured in the ex-dictatorship’s legislations.
During this first stage of the transition period, I joined the EAJ-PNV [the Basque Nationalist Party] because I believed that, working through our political parties, we would achieve a more direct and efficient form of action.
¿What are your memories of those days in the Council of San Sebastian?
I collaborated in the Municipal Managing Body, which was a significant event and also deeply emotional. I recall that the sitting where we finally took our seats ended with everyone singing the song “Gernikako Arbola”. Totally unforgettable!
Nevertheless, access to the Managing Body was not easy. After the general elections in 1977, the last town mayor to be in authority during the dictatorship had refused to give up his seat, and still remained in the Council of Donostia [San Sebastian]. The parties tried to put pressure him to go, as the voters had already made clear their political wishes in the elections, but he would not accept the situation. Mayor Otazu refused to resign and, just as history must be told as it was, so must the sequence of how things occurred: ETA placed a bomb in the entrance hall leading to his house, but became frightened and left.
We Joined the Town Council thanks to the votes obtained in 1977 and started up the Municipal Managing Body led by Ramón Jáuregui of the PSOE [Spanish Socialist Workers' Party]. During this period, I worked as a Councillor and also as Deputy Mayoress in the last stages of our management period.
Of this period, I would like to emphasise two objectives which I managed to successfully complete and which cost me an enormous effort: the integration of women in the Municipal Police Force and the establishment of a family planning clinic.
Nowadays I know this may sound incredible, but in those days the price I had to personally pay for these achievements was tremendously high.
The Elections for the Basque Government are held in March, 1980 and you are elected, becoming the first female parliament member...
That’s right, it was in 1980 when the first Parliament in the history of Euskadi was created. I was elected together with four other women, but I was presented in the highest position in the lists. I was fifth in the lists for Gipuzkoa, which was then headed by Carlos Garaikoetxea. Of the five women that achieved a seat, three of us were from Gipuzkoa (two from the PNV and one from HB [Herri Batasuna -“Unity of the People”- left nationalists], who didn’t attend the session).
I was 31 at that time, and had 2 children aged 7 and 4. That made me the youngest Member of Parliament in the Chamber.
How were your first days in Parliament?
My life has never been easy, added to which there was an immense lack of conscience towards women’s rights. My “progressive-female” approach to this issue caused more than one confrontation with the more conservative sectors, not only in society in general, but also in my own party. I especially remember issues such as divorce, the access of women to higher positions, allowing women into the Ertzantza [Basque Police Force], for example. Later came the liberalisation of abortion laws, and so on.
I am particularly proud of my participation in one specific debate, during the first days of the parliament’s new location, (we had provisionally been using the Provincial Council buildings of Bizkaia and Araba). When it was my turn to debate the issue which had brought me to the tribune in the plenary session, I dedicated a few emotional words to my desire and certainty that the future would allow the participation of many more women than the few of us that were present at that session.
In this first stage of my parliamentary activities, I would like to emphasize two events that held great significance, the first, only in the Basque Country and the second in the whole state. These were the kidnapping of several parliament members by the workers of the company “Nervacero” –it would be interesting if some day the events that occurred there were clarified– and 23F [23rd February 1981-the Military Coup].
These two events, despite being different in “status”, had in common that both aimed at putting the strength and consistency of our institutions to the test.
Where do your feminist beliefs stem from?
I think that my mother, a woman of great energy who managed to combine her career and her family despite the difficult period she was living, influenced me into conceiving since my early childhood that women were able beings and fighters, strong and tenacious individuals. Although my mother lacked a theoretical approach towards feminism, she practiced it on many fronts. This distanced her from the female stereotype of those days.
Besides that, the years I spent in a Convent School (these types of schools practically monopolized the educational offer in those days) caused me to be tremendously rebellious, in particular against their teachings on “feminine” and “masculine” issues, a concept which inevitably associated “authority” with men and “obedience” with women. They are obsessed with insisting on the great distance that separates God, always represented by symbols that are associated to masculinity, and the Virgin Mary. The same Virgin Mary that is always depicted hanging her head down and reciting her well known motto: “I am the Lord’s slave”.
All of this ideology on the genders proved, in fact, to be of negative influence throughout my youth.
Apart from this, I was a vivid reader, which opened the one hundred thousand doors that would not have remained closed for me otherwise.
Another unusual detail from those days: When I was very young, I went abroad to study –to England, Belgium and Ireland–. That implied not only “breathing the air” of “free countries”, but also living side by side with young people from all over the world and of diverse cultural origins, which uncovered objectives that in our environment were totally unimaginable. I managed to combine all these practical experiences with studies on women’s conditions which were becoming more and more profound, to a point where their near total absence in public life almost began to obsess me. Why was it? Where did the reason for this absence stem from? I would never be abandoning this double route I had taken, searching on the one hand for the truth behind the experiences I had lived, and on the other hand for information from records gathered, historic records, religious documents, literature, medical, scientific or psychological papers, ...
Looking back with a difference of 28 years, having been the first woman to sit in Parliament... there is a difference, isn’t there?
There is a great difference, but this is not enough, and the information we have is a little bit deceitful. Concentrating on our Parliament, in the beginning, we women were 5% of the total amount of members, and these last few legislations the quantitative increase has been spectacular. But one thing is the number, and another is the position and real power that these women possess. These days, in the political world, women’s integration in the political parties and the institutions is decided by men. Of the four social powers; political, economic, military and religious; we have only been able to enter the first and only in intermediate levels. In all the rest, there is almost a complete absence of women.
In the world of religion, we can say that in some Christian religions, for example the Anglican, women have access to becoming priests. In others, in the United States and Northern Europe, for example, there are even women bishops. But the catholic religion, with a much larger amount of followers, remains hermetic towards issues on women while Islam is spreading through Europe with increasing speed. This implies a step backwards in our advance towards equality.
In politics, the quest for votes is what has boosted a greater access of women to representative posts in particular, as they require greater social support, or in other words, more votes. Marketing plays an important part in elections. Nevertheless, once these have been held, the reality that comes afterwards is not very encouraging. It is true, though, that the days when women appeared on all the electoral publicity posters but did not have a chance of achieving parliamentary seats, have almost been overcome. It seems that women no longer “fall for” those public image stunts.
However, if we analyse the “hard core” areas in the political parties and institutions, we find that women are still practically non-existent. In many occasions, women appear only nominally, but it has been ascertained that the same post, covered by a man, entitles him to many more responsibilities than it does to a woman. If we review the specific case of the Basque Country one has to admit that the advance is evident, especially in areas such as the Legislative Chamber, although no women have been voted by the executive chamber into positions such as Chairman of the Provincial Council, nor Lehendakari [President], nor Mayoress of any of the three capitals of the Basque Autonomous Community. (Oddly enough, Pilar Careaga has been the only Lady Mayoress, and that was in Bilbao during Franco’s dictatorship.)
After so many years of democracy and struggle for the integration of women, I think that the results we can see today are simply not satisfactory enough.
Do you feel frustrated?
As a woman of feminist beliefs, I would like to be facing another reality. And not only here. If we stop to seriously analyse what is happening in this world, we can see that it is still necessary for many female political members to have family ties in order to be able to gain admittance to positions of power. In America we have, for example, Cristina Fernandez in Argentina, who has gained the presidency after her husband Kichner. Bachelet in Chile is the daughter of a General that was assassinated during Pinochet’s dictatorship. In the US, we have the example of Hillary, the wife of ex-president Clinton.
In Nicaragua, the same happened with Violeta Chamorro and in other continents we have Macapagal in Philippines, Segoléne Royale in France, Benazir Buhto (daughter of Ali Butho and recently murdered ) in Pakistan and in the past we had Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi in India (daughter of Nerhu) and Cory Aquino in Philippines.
There are also a few that have achieved admittance it with no “family aid”, such as Margaret Thatcher (UK), Gro Harlem (Norway) Finnbogadotir (Iceland), Golda Meir (Israel) and currently, Angela Merkel (Germany) and maybe Julia Timoshenko (Ukraine), and the Presidents of Ireland and Finland, but still too few for a genuine picture of 21st century politics.
You haven’t mentioned Esperanza Aguirre or the Palacio sisters...
A difference must be made between positions of high responsibility, ruling members and leaders. The Palacio sisters, Ana and Loyola, certainly held post of high responsibility, Ana in the Ministerial post of Foreign Affairs (the first woman to hold this post in all the history of Spain) and Loyola as European Minister and Commissioner.
Esperanza Aguirre also holds a high post as President of the Community of Madrid and as part of the ruling body of the PP [Popular Party].
But leadership is another matter.
As Deputy President of the Basque Government, Ms Zenarruzabeitia occupies a very important position. The fact that a woman has been voted into this post is a very positive step. Nevertheless, these “second rank” posts are very interesting to analyse from a hierarchical point of view towards men and women in positions of power. It must also be added that, here in the Basque Country, we have Izaskun Bilbao, President of the Parliament, and Begoña Errasti, who until a very short time ago was President of EA [“Basque Nationalists”-result of the division in PNV] and the only woman holding a maximum leadership post in a political party.
In the non-nationalist area, María San Gil must also be mentioned, as president of the Basque office for the PP, Rosa Diez, who has ventured to start up a new party after leaving the PSOE and in Iparralde [“French” Basque Country], Michelle-Alliot-Marie, who has been Mayoress of St Jean de Luz, Minister of Defence with Chirac and is currently Minister for Home Affairs with Sarkozy.
From the examples you have given, it seems that there has been a larger increase in women leaders in right wing regimes.
This is a very suggestive question, as very contradictory information is given depending on the period in history and the country that is being analysed. If we begin to study the activities of the two countries where women have most fought for their rights, that is Great Britain and the United States, we can see that this campaign has gone on regardless of right or left wing labelling in the majority of cases, even though anything going “against the establishment” can traditionally be related more to left wing tendencies.
“The levellers” in 17th Century England and the suffragettes of the 19th century did not accept conventional coding. In revolutionary, 18th century France, we come across Olympe de Rouge, who demanded a “Declaration of Women’s Rights” together with a “Declaration of Men’s Rights”. Nevertheless, that particular revolution was not intended for these questions, and she was guillotined.
However, in the shadow of what had happened in the New Cork company “Cotton” on 8th March 1908, with 129 women workers burning to death while they were protesting for 10-hour shifts, this event was adopted as an emblem by the International Socialists, who managed to landmark the date to be celebrated all over the world as an emblematic day for the fight for women’s rights. In other countries, however, feminism was introduced through the upper-class gentry, or even the aristocrats, in large part because they were the only women that had access to cultural events and were connected to more advanced societies.
In the world of Marxism, there were obviously names of very relevant women, such as Rosa Luxemburgo, Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai. In general, though, this ideology seemed excessively dogmatic for the autonomy that was required by the specific characteristics of feminism. Here in the Basque Country, we had a very clear example in Dolores Ibarruri “la Pasionaria”. Dolores Ibarruri is a clear exponent of the type of political activism that was developed by women of Marxist beliefs, centred on labour but with little connection to the specific struggle of women.
It is also true that in a later period, and in that same ideological area, important names appeared, particularly in the field of theoretical feminism, such as Simone de Beauvoir (in France) and Lidia Falcón (in Spain).
In more recent times, we have Marie France Garuad (right-wing) in France, who presented herself as a candidate for Presidency several times, albeit on a testimonial level. Simona Veil, also in France and also right-wing, carried out a magnificent job in favour of women’s rights. In the US, we also have Geraldine Ferraro, a New York millionaire who presented herself as candidate on the democratic ticket together with Mondale.
In Spain, in spite of the great feminist effervescence during the period of transition, women of right wing views barely participated in politics, lacking all protagonism. Oddly enough, however, when the Right gained power, women were placed in fairly prominent posts. From this period, we can recall such names as Soledad Becerril (Minister for Cultural Affairs), Rosa Posadas (Government Spokesperson to CCD [Christian Democrats]), etc. This is to say, even though they did not collaborate in putting forward our demands, they later stepped onto the wagon and occupied posts that could bring them a change of image, more modern and progressive. Nevertheless, and despite arriving late and superficially, these appointments must be considered as highly positive.
On your arrival to Parliament, which were your tasks?
As far as commissions are concerned, I worked in three areas:1) Economic Affairs, Finance and Budgets 2) Cultural Affairs y 3) Human Rights. I also worked as a member of the special commission that was created in relation to the law of Historic Territories, which lasted two years and played such an important part in the breakdown that shook the PNV, resulting in its division and the birth of EA.
I therefore lived the annual budget laws directly, as a protagonist, those laws that created the basis of our current economic functioning. In Cultural Affairs, we saw the beginnings of EITB [Euskal Irrati Telebista-Basque Radio and Television], the Orchestra of Euskadi, the Basque Language Act, HABE [Helduen Alfabetatze Berreuskalduntzerako Erakundea - a department within the Basque Government of Euskadi that is dedicated to the teaching of the Basque language to adults],and so on. One must also remember that we had previously designated Gasteiz as capital of the Basque Autonomous Community. I also worked on the Human Rights Commission and would like to emphasize two very important turning points on this issue: the elaboration of the “White Book” on the situation of women in Euskadi, and the report on prisons located inside the Basque Autonomous Community.
In the first case, I would like to point out the importance of the information provided in relation to our community, which helped to establish measures that would lead to the possibility of bringing forward those changes that were so necessary and urgent in order to be able to reach European standards. We requested the elaboration of the White Book in 1981 and published it the following year.
On the subject of the report on prisons, I must confess how tremendously impacted I was by my visits to several penitentiary centres. The experience has marked me deeply and made me reflect a lot on how society lives in general and, in particular, the political class, ignoring and giving our back to this reality. I don’t refer only to the reality of political prisoners, but also to other prisoners in general.
Whilst working in the Human Rights Commission I also had to live some very difficult and emotional episodes when visiting the families of people that had been kidnapped by ETA... We were going through a period of great violence, and the democratic system in times like these moves among these tensions and contradictions in a way that it is often impossible to act in a manner that can be considered fair and acceptable by society as a whole.
Along the journey, you must have come across male politicians with different sensitivities towards the issues you were working on.
This is also so historically. As an example I will quote but two, although there are many more, towards which I have always held the greatest respect. These are Condorcet in France and Stuart Mill in England, who, in spite of being men, fought and supported many women’s causes. There are therefore men who have been decisive in their support towards women in defence of their rights, but we must also admit that there are many women that have not done so, in pure complicity with the “macho” and his patriarchal system.
It is saddening to admit, but women that campaign for their claims in feminist areas have always resulted somewhat uncomfortable, especially for party leaders. In the first place, this is because if a woman opts for these posts, some of the men will be prevented from covering them and, furthermore, because they don’t want women’s needs and petitions to inflate the objectives of their activities. That is to say, they are not interested in women as neither a “subject” nor an “object” of political action. Only in small doses, enough to achieve a progressive image. In the course of my personal life –as I have said before, it was very hard– I would especially like to mention a man who, although not the only one, meant for me, during all the time we worked together, an authentic, loyal and unwavering support. This man is Gurutz Ansola, parliament member for Gipuzkoa, President for the Commission for Economic Affairs, Finance and Budgets and later President of the General Council of Gipuzkoa. Those who, for me, left the completely opposite impression, I would prefer not to recall their names.
You have given the names of some women. I don’t know if they are political references for you on a political scale or in the area of the fight for the rights of women...
I have always admired campaigners that have not been publicly recognized, the anonymous heroes, people that have worked as ice-breakers, opening up the path for the rest of us.
As for women, I could mention all those who, along the centuries, have rebelled against injustice and the clichés they were forced to support. These women, with their valour, marked the guidelines for, and helped us achieve, what we are accomplishing now and will accomplish in the future. This process is created combining links and all that we can hope for is to become one of those links. All these women have my deepest respect.
We can, however, give some specific names, for example Hatshepsut, starting quite far back in history. I remember many years ago when I visited the Valley of Kings in Egypt, a temple that had some differences with the rest caught my attention. That was how I discovered the only female Pharaoh of ancient Egypt. I was so attracted by this figure that I investigated all I could about her and published an article in the press one 8th of March, in honour of her courage.
InCrete, too, I found the tomb of a local heroine from the Greek War of Independence. I have likewise gathered many more stories of many more heroines. In all truth, we can almost claim that all the ages, civilizations and contexts have contained women of this kind. But I am going to mention the case that is closest to us, the above mentioned “The Levellers”, that brave group of women who demanded political rights before anyone else dared to, and the North American women who achieved the Seneca Falls Declaration and women’s right to vote in the 19th century, and the British Suffragettes, unyielding and worthy of admiration, like the Emmeline Pankhurst and her three daughters, or like Emily Davidson, who threw herself under the horse of the Prince of Wales. And Virginia Wolf ...
In Spain, the example of Clara Campoamor, who went as far as to go against her own party due to their negative attitude towards women’s right to vote in Parliament.
And Flora Tristán, a half-French, half-Peruvian feminist who, in spite of all the work she carried out in favour of the rights of women and the oppressed, is only remembered by many as the grandmother of Gauguin, the artist.
Here in Euskadi, the women of the E.A.B. (Emakume Abertzale Batza - Nationalist Women Association), despite not being as vindictive in feminine questions, did cause an important breaking point with the narrow role they had played exclusively in the private ambit, opening but a small breach for political activism for women in Basque Nationalism.
These women are my references, all the women that have fought and strived to make things change. None of them has been graced with grand monuments or even acknowledgements by the vast majority of historians. This is because society still does not appropriately honour its women. Humbleness, at times, is not one of our virtues, but something which has been imposed on us.
You have mentioned before some of the work you carried out, some of which has come to an end, reaping in positive results. There must have been other projects you would have liked to see through but which have not yet been accomplished...
Within these, I would like to include the work carried out after I attended the closing ceremony of the United Nation Decade for Women in Nairobi in 1985, as a delegate of the Basque Government. The report that I elaborated with all the material I gathered together during the seminar, extremely interesting information, as it proceeded from all over the world, particularly the material connected with women. I participated personally, mainly in debates around political or institutional issues, but I rounded my participation off with issues on education, health, culture, and so on. I remember an anecdote: I coincided with the famous North American feminist, Betty Friedan, in the entrance to one of the sessions.
Another interesting memory from Nairobi, which links with the present moment, was the forecast I gathered from my conversations with a group of North American women belonging to the Democratic Party that were also attending the seminar. These women assured me that the USA would have a black President before having a woman President. I think this opinion would be very adequate to bear in mind at this precise moment, during the current election process between Hillary and Obama.
I also formed part of the booster group of what was to become Emakunde [SARE-Women’s Organization]. A small group of women, some of them originating from the political group EE [Basque Left], organized a completely informal meeting in Zarauz to discuss and prepare a proposal with the objective of starting up an institutional mechanism that would act in the specific field of women’s rights. These organisms were already functioning all over Europe and their outcome, albeit limited, was resulting totally necessary.
Many of these mechanisms that were then started up have achieved a large part of their aims, thanks to this collaboration. However, many others remain patiently waiting for a more favourable period to be established.
Despite all this, is there anything you have tried to achieve but not been successful in the attempt? I obviously refer to the political area, as a woman. Is there anything you tried to carry out, but were faced with too many difficulties to do so?
The truth is that I prefer not to list all the things I would have liked to do or achieve, but I would like to describe a process which resulted in vain that occurred during the last stage of my political career, when I was member of the GBB (regional executive board), and the EBB (national board) of my party.
The party was going to organise a General Assembly and I organised a women’s Convention in order to draw some conclusions to be included in the Assembly resolutions that could guarantee a much wider participation of women in the elaboration of candidatures, both for internal posts and institutional positions. This was both an innovative and practical way of boosting women’s active protagonism in all levels of active politics. Unfortunately, although the women’s Convention approved the resolution, the General Assembly did not. In fact, it was not even presented for voting. It was declared null and void.
I clearly remember how the preparation process developed for that final session in Donostia. I visited all the batzokis [headquarters or “meeting-places”] in Euskadi that had asked me to explain our proposal. The reactions were generally positive, although I also remember some very harsh sessions. In the end, as I have mentioned, the proposal was not accepted, but I am positive that those ideas, the information, suggestions, criticisms and proposals etc. that I put forward in countless forums have and will continue being fruitful.
As I have mentioned before, our aim must be to become one of the links in the long chain that connects the past, always worse than the present, with a future that is always better.
The Law against sexual discrimination...
Even the name of the law is overly ambitious. It abridged in few words a radical change in the relationship between men and women that had been based on inequality, hierarchy and sexual divisions. As a legislative measure it is very positive, but we have yet to see the extent of its establishment. In some countries, political parties prefer to pay fines rather than comply with the legislation. Others try to justify themselves arguing that it is impossible for them to implement the measure. Fortunately, the initiative in these issues is led by Northern Europe, albeit faced with many problems to do so. Nevertheless, the campaigns show a high degree of observance which acts as reference for the rest of the countries that may show less awareness towards these political issues.
It is easy to argue that there are no possible female candidates to cover some of the higher ranks, when women have not been promoted in previous positions, nor any measures been taken to be able to combine their public and private lives. We will only have access to authentic equality if there are no doubts as to the willingness to reach it, otherwise the amount of excuses and justifications will know no bounds.
It is true that many women consider these types of laws, laws that “force” our rights to be practiced, as unpleasant. However, reality shows that only the countries that have enforced them have achieved acceptable results. In this question as in many others, perfection is the enemy of correction.
We must also bear in mind, nevertheless, that these laws close the doors to those political parties for feminist campaigning that have at times participated in elections in some countries, and that have opted for counting on only women in their lists in order to avoid male “filtering”.
Is today’s youth aware of how much we have advanced?
I think that they are not. This may even have always been so throughout history. To be aware of the achievements that we enjoy, two things are needed: the first is the ability to evaluate the present situation and be familiar with previous periods. For the second, we have ourselves, the protagonists of past events, who must be capable of transmitting our experiences and information, as well as our knowledge. I have to admit that I myself have often reflected on the enormous difference that exists between the context of my childhood and adolescence, and the current situation. In some aspects, the realities even prove antagonic. To give a specific example, the difference between the total repression and lack of liberty that existed in our times and the excessive tolerance of nowadays.
We should also bear in mind the part being currently played by the mass media that, through the constant bombardment of news in the form of headlines, force us to live with a lot of information but little formation. That is to say, they touch the surface of the problems, the conflicts, wars, changes and so on, but they are not looked at in depth. Little is known, little is analysed and, in consequence, very few conclusions are drawn. Everything remains on the surface and, in spite of the enormous advance in technology that could help us to increase our knowledge, understand our reality; we limit ourselves to the role of ignorant, technologically advanced individuals.
Don’t you think that the pressure of the young people of today, of both genders, as to issues of the future, is much less intense than the pressure exerted by the CDS [Democratic and Social Centre Party]? Isn’t there a tendency towards mediocrity in our demands?
The context is so extremely different. We are all, in great part, a very important outcome of the circumstances we have been forced to live, which, as I mentioned in my answer to your previous question, have radically changed.
When I was a child, for example, girls couldn’t work in banks or places like that. In the companies where they could work, women were paid a dowry and sent home when they got married. The schools we had then, for girls only, had only female teachers and the only male teacher we had was a priest who gave Religious Studies to the higher courses in secondary level. The only secular teachers we had were from the Women’s Section of the Falange [Traditionalist Spanish Phalanx of the Assemblies of the National Syndicalist Offensive]. Some of them would give us P.E. classes and others taught us the doctrine of the Falange. It was compulsory to pass this subject in order to pass on to the following year.
In the decade of the 60s, during the final stages of General Franco’s regime, some companies used to ask the young women they employed for “certificates of good conduct” issued by their local parish priest. Marriage was forcibly ecclesiastical, for all of eternity and with no possibility of divorce. Contraceptive pills were totally banned. Women passed from being tutored by their fathers to being tutored by their husbands without the possibility of enjoying a brief interval, and all the films had a “happy” ending, that is to say, they ended in marriage.
These are all merely random traces of the situation we have had to live in. It is not strange that this atmosphere should lead us to marches, protests for demands, fights for changes, or that it should bring an enormous increase in political awareness. To discuss or argue about political issues used to be a passion for us and we shared hopes and expectations with groups that shared our ideological views.
Nowadays, as is generally confirmed by those that work with young people, even if they are university students, they hardly speak about political issues as it implies something uncomfortable and tedious for them. This is because their demands are fundamentally based on the infamous “one-thousand-euro” salaries and the problems of housing. Does this mean that young people today tend to be too pragmatic and prefer to completely ignore demands on other levels? Or perhaps, as a result of living in a society with much more freedom and democracy than what we were accustomed to, they don’t get to feel the annoyance that pushed us into wanting to change things.
When we gather together all the differences that exist between these two generations, we should also bear in mind a very important fact: in our context, young people represented a very high percentage of the total population –we were the result of the baby-boom generation. Nowadays, on the other hand, with the decrease in births, the younger generation has lost social influence, and consequently power, to impose themselves as the main protagonists. The university riots in US and in other countries and, above all, the riots of May, 1968 in France, would not have been possible without a large contingency of young people.
Won’t this, to a point, be a negative influence on women’s demands?
In some areas, the situation of women’s conditions has taken some very positive steps, but in other areas we are living a false indiscrimination. The theoretical question is impeccable at present in the majority of cases –we are living in a period of political correctness– but the facts are completely different to those we are now debating. It may be true that nowadays it is no longer necessary to dress up as a man to go to university, as was the case with Concepción Arenal, but the statistics show that the number of women university professors or headmistresses is extremely low. We have many doors open to us, but the ceilings are made of glass. We are completely aware of the figures that show the high level of unemployment in women, the lower wages they receive, the minimum percentage of women that occupy positions of high rank in businesses, the shameful pensions for widows, the dictatorship of anorexia, especially among the young, the terrible reports on sexual violence, which has worsened before the autonomy of women to separate from their aggressors. Above all, one of the main problems that worry an increasing number of women is the difficulties in combining maternity with one’s career. The public domain develops in preconceptions designed by men which totally ignore our private lives, therefore taking a tremendous toll on women’s professional advances. This is the reason why a high percentage of the women that accede to high positions, for example in politics, are single, separated or divorced, or have no or few children.
There is therefore a genuine need for women to apply pressure and act in the reorganisation of social habits. If not, this syndrome of the “double-facet” woman, who finds she cannot satisfactorily accomplish her maternal and professional obligations, can become a chronic ailment whose treatment is based exclusively on palliatives.
Perhaps, in view of this problem, the public administration departments will shortly decide to adopt important measures (other countries have already done this, with very positive results) as here, in Euskadi, there is currently an alarming decrease in births. Such a small country as ours must take this fact very seriously indeed as, otherwise, we are putting at risk our future as a people.
It is precisely at this time when many women begin to acquire awareness of their discrimination and demand feminist solutions to their problems. In my generation, girls perceived our “specifications” when we were very young. Nowadays, the lure towards indiscrimination tends to be unmasked a few years later.
Then, awareness has gone back in time...
It has gone back in time for the reasons I have explained in my answer to your previous question and because women, nowadays and for various different reasons, choose to live together as a couple and to have children much later than before. Apart from this, circumstances and experiences have substantially modified and therefore there are areas that were very relevant some years ago, for example the “housewife syndrome”, which nowadays has lost practically all its social relevance. On the other hand, there are new ones which have appeared, like “anorexia” (especially in young girls), “the glass ceiling syndrome” (among professionals, politicians, etc.) and, in particular, the “superwoman syndrome”, that is to say, the caryatid woman who tries to bear the weight of her double task as a mother and a professional, with more cases resulting in frustration than success in the majority of cases.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change?
Due to my character and my age, I do not believe in magic wands. Because of my way of being, my values and my experience, I believe only in struggling forward, hard-work, maintaining your goal always in sight and never being caught off guard. The world, in spite of good intentions and ethical discourses, is moved by interests and women have to be very brave to be able to keep what they have fought for and fight for what has not yet been achieved. We women must be aware that putting into practice many of our rights means that men will lose those privileges that they have been abusing of, therefore we must be prepared to confront the reactions that these changes may possibly provoke.
Where would you mark the turning point for women in your campaign?
I think this point goes fundamentally with self-esteem, both on an individual and collective basis. Women should learn to give much more value to what they have achieved, what they do and what they are capable of doing. We know how and by whom History was written. Male historians have treated the social process as if only half of humanity had taken part in it, giving much more value to wars, destruction and the fight for power than to those other contributions that have served for the progress and support of humanity, the most ungrateful part of day to day life. On the other hand, this non-consideration of the protagonism of women has also appeared in the field of literature, art and sculpture, music, religion, science, and so on.
It is also correct to say that women, as we have just analysed, have had very few opportunities to participate in public but, even so, the shroud of silence that has traditionally draped the labour carried out by millions of women proves totally unfair.
Incidentally, have you ever believed in the traditional Basque matriarchy?
Matriarchy basically means that the organization of society is under the power of women, at the expense of masculine relegation. There are anthropologists who affirm that in some societies this system has existed, whereas others say that it has never existed in any society. One thing is certain; women’s roles have not been the same in all societies. However, keeping to the question of the Basque Country, my answer is clear: no. What has existed here is a type of family that was very much focused on the figure of the mother as an important and influential element, but obviously only within the family. This feature, which portrays such a strong picture of the figure of the typical Basque mother, has had some positive derivatives, and others not so positive, resulting in specifications, above all in relationships between mothers and male descendants, which would be very interesting to analyse from a psychological point of view, and maybe even psychiatric.
What is the subsequent cause of the nurturing of this myth?
Where a reality does not exist, a legend or myth is created. Myths are created with the purpose of covering lacks. All cultures possess their own mythology, and so does the Basque.
We previously mentioned the subject of women in religion, albeit superficially. Could we talk about religious issues, about women in the Catholic religion?
In my previous answer I included details on the inscrutability of the Catholic Church when faced with the possibility of the integration of women, even in the case of basic priesthood. But it is not only in issues of ecclesiastic hierarchy that women are subordinated in the Catholic religion. The root of the matter is much more profound, as women’s inferiority in comparison to men is stated in the explanation that is given on the creation of mankind, where God creates man in his own image and, from man’s rib, awards him with a companion in shape of a woman. In issues on civil rights, this concept of giving one sex priority over the other represents a criminal offence. The importance of this interpretation has been of tremendous significance over the centuries as well as in our historic background, as Judaism, Christianism and Islam form the group of religions which are denominated “from the book”, that is to say, based on the Old Testament.
It is also true that oriental religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Confucianism, Taoism, etc, also define a hierarchy of the sexes in the same way. As a result, after making a comparative study of the different religions, we can conclude that the hand of man is behind the words that define them all.
I am going to tell an anecdote here, as it is a very enlightening example of what I have just described. During a visit to an important Buddhist temple in the Far East, and in view of the long and detailed explanations that I was receiving from a monk about the re-incarnations of Buda, I dared to ask if, in any of these re-incarnations, Buddha had been a woman. It’s a shame I can’t show a photograph of the look of horror on the monks face
Myths are effectively myths, but, do you see any solution to women’s participation in religion?
Women’s participation in religion will depend, as in other areas, on their own capacity to fight for it. This fight will have specific difficulties, as we are not confronting a democratic organisation, and the routes for action will also be more complicated. The truth is that, throughout history, there have been many women who have tried. The most recent attempts have been several women theologist. However, going back to the middle ages, and in later periods too, the prioresses of some of the convents attempted to achieve a higher status in the ecclesiastic structure thanks to their works and writings. These women were not successful in gaining their objectives, but other congregations which are still valid now, carry such significant names as “the Slaves of...” or “the Servants of...” I think that, with these examples, we can clearly see the attitudes and concepts which are maintained as acceptable by the official church and which are rejected or not even taken into consideration.
A question which could be tackled from outside the church, but with an essential aid from the inside, is the way Vatican issues are treated, as the Vatican is part of the UN with observer status, although, curiously enough, they have institutions that are not comparable to any other non-democratic state, are not subjected to any type of control and are exclusively masculine. Maybe, as I say, there could be a possibility of acting as a lever from the outside of the church in order to force changes and this way help those on the inside that desire profound changes, especially on aspects to do with the role of women.
In which direction should our society aim in order to attain complete women’s rights?
The same as in the previous case, this will depend mainly on us but also on the solidarity we receive from our colleagues and friends to be able to share the public and private ambit. Besides, we have a lot of work ahead to banish all those prejudices, topics and stale concepts, those theories produced according to certain interests and all the different evaluations which are given depending on whether the receiver is a man or a woman...
Being in the European Community constitutes a guarantee with regard to our future, as Northern Europe has always been in the vanguard of women’s’ conquests and acts as a tug-boat for the less keener countries. Europe needs cohesion on this issue, as well as defending an equal status for women as something inalienable to their identity. Events are near, like the spreading of Islam religion through many European countries, and the increasing possibilities of the integration of Turkey –an Islamic country with over 70 million inhabitants– which lays before us new challenges in order to maintain and continue with this policy of sexual equality.
What would also be convenient here in our country, now and in the future, is that the dynamics of establishing objectives which are increasingly more ambitious and applying pressure on those implicated to carry them out, should also exist outside institutional areas. Great autonomy is needed to be able to analyse and assess the policies that are being carried out without obstructions or subjections. This way of functioning also generates a very interesting dynamic in that work is carried out from different points of view and with people of an origin with a much wider ideological scale. Maybe, acting from a position of knowledge of the past, certainly, but with guidelines tending increasingly towards the future, we may manage to reconstruct the male and female identities, this time not with a hierarchical basis between them, but on a basis of equality and respect that, as human beings, all of us deserve. Miren Begoña Amunarriz Olano
(Donostia-San Sebastián, 1948) She was born in Donostia-San Sebastián, is married and has two sons and one granddaughter. After gaining her high school diploma (science major), she earned a degree in Advanced Administrative Studies at the University of Navarra and studied Language, Art and French and English Literature in Brussels, London and Dublin. She gained the Cambridge University Proficiency certificate for English and attended music classes at the Donostia Conservatory. She speaks four languages: Basque, Spanish, French and English. She has worked in both private companies and as a teacher, and has occupied the following posts within the political field (for the EAJ-PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party): . Internal posts: member of the Municipal District Council, member of the Regional Executive Council and member of the National Executive Council. . Institutional posts: member of the Municipal Management Board (Donostia Local Council), member of the Gasteiz Parliament and member of the EITB Board of Directors. Ms Amunarriz regularly appears as a guest on various debate and discussion programmes broadcast by EITB (Basque television and radio company) and is the author of many specialist articles focusing on political issues such as: the two World Wars, May ’68, Quebec, terrorism, the Baltic States, the Balkans, Islam, Iran, the Jewish question, Basque nationalism and, above all, women.