Transnationalizing the Transition: How the International Women’s Movement Shaped Spanish Democracy, 1974–95

Friday, January 2, 2015: 1:20 PM
Conference Room I (Sheraton New York)
Kathryn L. Mahaney, City University of New York, Graduate Center
Francisco Franco’s death in 1975 and the decline of his authoritarian regime in Spain, coincided with the United Nation’s International Year of the Woman and occurred in the immediate aftermath of the inaugural UN World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City of that year and attended by delegates from around the globe.

I argue that this confluence of events highlights a turning point in modern Spanish history. An emerging international consensus that Western European-style democratic liberalism required equality of the sexes shaped development not only of Spain’s 1978 Constitution, but also the nation’s politics beyond the transition era. Throughout the late 20th century, Spanish politicians concerned about Spain’s global reputation as “backward” marshalled support for women’s rights as a way of proving their nation’s commitment to repudiating Franco and replacing his lingering structures of control with a new, progressive politics. Of course, in order to protect women’s rights, politicians first had to definethem. Ensuing debates about the content of women’s rights legislation channeled Spaniards’ anxieties about what their nation’s post-Franco identity should be – and also enmeshed feminists, activists, and politicians in international conversations on the topic.

This paper analyzes those international conversations and the transnational networks that made them possible. Spanish activists, both liberal and conservative, received rhetorical and strategic support from NGOs and grassroots organizations invested in the outcome of Spain’s democratic transition. Feminists relied on negotiations at the UN’s women’s and human rights conferences to provide precedent for (re)shaping Spain’s policies. Lastly, politicians consistently reevaluated the nation’s international reputation for signs that Spain had moved beyond the taint of Franco’s regime, and chose their legislative agenda accordingly. Ultimately, I argue that Spaniards wrestle with the historical memory of Francoism in the language of women’s rights and at the nexus of the international and the domestic.