October 1, 1931 — Palacio de las Cortes, Madrid, Spain
Members of Parliament: far from condemning or attacking the demonstrations of my colleague, Miss [Victoria] Kent, I understand, on the contrary, her tortured spirit, having been caught up in the trance of denying women’s potential. I believe that in some way the bitter phrase of Anatole France must have passed through her mind when he speaks of those socialists who, forced by necessity, went to Parliament to legislate against their own.
With regard to the series of statements made this afternoon against women’s suffrage, I must say, with all due consideration, that they are not supported by reality. Let’s take some of them at random. You ask, “Why didn’t women stand up to protest the war in Morocco?” But first, I ask, why didn’t the men? Second: who protested and rose up in Zaragoza during the war in Cuba more than women? Who nurtured the demonstration for responsibilities at the Ateneo, on the occasion of the disaster in Annual, more than women, who were there in greater numbers than men?
Women! How can it be said that women must demonstrate that they live for their Republic in order to be granted the right to vote, as a prize? Have women not fought for the Republic? Is it that in speaking with praise of working women and university women, you are not singing their capacity? Furthermore, when speaking of working and university women, are we to ignore all those who do not belong to one class or the other? Do they not suffer the consequences of the legislation? Do they not pay taxes to support the State in the same way as the others and the men? Does not the whole consequence of the legislation which is drawn up here for both sexes, but only directed and nuanced by one, reflect on them? How can it be said that women have not struggled and, instead, that it would take an era, many long years in the Republic, to demonstrate their capacity? And why not men? Why should men, at the advent of the Republic, have their rights and women’s rights be put in a lazaretto?
But, also, gentlemen, those of you who voted for the Republic, and those of you who were voted for by the Republicans, meditate for a moment and ask yourself if you voted alone, if only men voted for you. Has the woman been absent from the vote? Well, then, if you say that women do not influence at all the political life of men, you are affirming their personality, affirming their resistance to obey them, and it is in the name of this personality that you recognize and declare your repulsion, so that you close the doors to women in electoral matters. Is it that you have the right to do this? No; you have the right that the law has given you, the law that you made, but you do not have the fundamental natural right, which is based on respect for every human being, and what you do is hold power; let the woman manifest herself and you will see how that power cannot be held back any longer.
We are not dealing with the question here from the point of view of principle, which is quite clear, and in your consciences it reverberates that this is a problem of ethics, of pure ethics to recognize the woman, the human being, and all her rights, because since Fitche, in 1796, it has been accepted that only he who does not consider the woman a human being is able to affirm that all rights of the man and of the citizen should not be the same for the woman as for the man. And in the French Parliament, in 1848, Victor Considerant stood up to say that a Constitution that grants the vote to the beggar, the domestic and the illiterate — which exists in Spain — cannot deny it to women. It is not from the point of view of principle, it is from the fear that has been exposed here, outside the scope of the principle — a painful thing for a lawyer —, that one may debate the woman’s right to suffrage under the Constitution. And from the practical, utilitarian point of view, what do you accuse women of? Is it ignorance? Well, I cannot, however annoying the statistics may be, fail to refer to a study by Mr. Luzuriaga on illiteracy in Spain.
He makes a cyclical study from 1868 to 1910, not any longer, because statistics go very slowly and there are no other statistics in Spain. And do you know what these statistics say? Well, they says that, taking the overall numbers in the cycle from 1860 to 1910, it is observed that while the total number of male illiterates, far from decreasing, has increased by 73,082 persons, the number of illiterate women has decreased by 48,098 persons; and, referring to the proportionality of illiteracy in the overall population, the decrease in males is only 12.7 percent, while in females it is 20.2 percent. This simply means that the decrease in illiteracy is more rapid in women than in men, and that if this process of decrease continues in both sexes, women will not only reach the level of elementary education of men, but will surpass it. This was in 1910. And since 1910 the upward curve has continued, and women today are less illiterate than men. It is not, then, from the point of view of ignorance that women can be denied entry into the attainment of this right.
Another thing, moreover, to the male who is to vote. Do not forget that you are not only the children of a man, but that the product of both sexes is united in you.
In my absence and in reading the journal of the sessions, I could see that a doctor had said that there was no possible explanation and, in a spirit inherited from Moebius and Aristotle, he declared the incapacity of women. To that, a single argument: even if you do not want to and if perchance you admit female incapacity, you vote with half of your incapable self. I and all the women I represent want to vote with our masculine half, because there is no degeneration of sexes, because we are all children of man and woman and we receive equally the two parts of our being. I heard this principle explained with magnificent clairvoyance to the distinguished teacher Unamuno, referring to a discussion with Mrs. Emilia Pardo Bazán, a discussion in which the latter was gripped with the argument of inherited incapacity and, in the end, he gave her the way out in this magnificent argument that was later expanded by biologists. We are the product of beings; there is no possible incapacity from you to me, nor from me to you. To disregard this is to deny the obvious reality. Deny it if you wish; you are free to do so, but only by virtue of a right which you have (forgive me the word, which I say only for its clarity and not in an aggressive spirit) held, because you have given yourselves the laws; but not because you have a natural right to set women aside.
I, Members of Parliament, feel that I am a citizen before I am a woman, and I believe that it would be a profound political mistake to leave women out of this right, the woman who hopes and trusts you; the woman who, as was the case with other new forces in the French Revolution, will undoubtedly be a new force that will be incorporated into the law and we must only push her to follow her path.
Do not let the woman who is regressive think that her hope was in the dictatorship; do not let the woman who is advanced think that her hope for equality is in communism. Do not commit, members of parliament, this political error of very serious consequences. You can save the Republic, you can help the Republic by attracting and joining that force that anxiously awaits the moment of its redemption.
Each one speaks from an experience and I speak to you on behalf of my own. I am a deputy for the province of Madrid; I have traveled through it, not only in the line of duty, but also out of love, and many times, always, I have seen that the public events were attended by a much greater number of women than men, and I have seen in the eyes of those women the hope of redemption, I have seen the desire to help the Republic, I have seen the passion and emotion they put into their ideals. Spanish women today expect the Republic to redeem them and their children. Do not make a historical mistake that you will never have enough time to lament; that you will never have enough time to mourn, this marginalization of women in the Republic, women, who represent a new force, a young force, on the margins of the Republic; who have been sympathetic and supportive of the men who were in prison; who have suffered in many cases as you yourselves have, and who are yearning, applying to themselves Humboldt’s phrase that the only way to mature for the exercise of freedom and to make it accessible to all is to walk within it.
Members of Parliament, I have spoken my last words in this debate. Forgive me if I have disturbed you, I believe that it is my conviction that speaks; that in the face of an ideal I would defend it to the death; that I would put, as I said yesterday, my head and my heart on the scales, in the same way that Breno placed his sword, so that it would bow in favor of the woman’s vote, and that I still think, and not out of vanity, but out of my own conviction, at this time no one serves the Spanish Republic like me.
Translation by Hannah Abigail Foley.
Source: Diario de Sesiones de las Cortes Constituyente de la República Española (Journal of Sessions of the Constituent Courts of the Spanish Republic), Volume III, (Madrid: Cesores de Rivadeneyra) 1933, pp. 1352-1354.
Copyright 2021 by Hannah Abigail Foley. Used by permission. All rights reserved.