Women took to the streets across Spain on Monday to champion their rights on a tense International Women’s Day marked by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Madrid, which was the center of massive marches in previous years, was the only region to ban the rallies, citing concerns around the spread of COVID-19.

Dozens of women showed up to protest in the city’s main square anyway.

“They can’t keep us at home. International Women’s Day is not a crime,” Coral Latorre, head of a Madrid student’s union, told EuropaPress, calling the decision to ban the protests “political” and not based on health.

Madrid’s conservative government has been one of the few to keep bars and restaurants open throughout the second and third waves of the pandemic, and also permits large, indoor concerts.

Local press report that one of the protestors in Madrid was slightly injured after being attacked by another woman who had been singing a Spanish fascist anthem.

A well-known feminist mural, depicting icons like Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks and Nina Simone, was also vandalized by black spray paint in Madrid overnight. Earlier in the year, the far-right party Vox and conservative Popular Party had voted in favor of replacing it but narrowly lost.

Elsewhere in Spain, thousands of women took to the streets without incident, though in smaller groups than in past years.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also attended a related event, saying “only through feminism will societies, systems and ways of life improve,” calling sexism “a structural inequality.”​​​​​​​

In recent years, Spain has been home to some of the largest Women’s Day marches. In 2019, millions of women even participated in a feminist general strike in which women refused to work at home or in their jobs to highlight their importance to society.

The 2020 Women’s Day marches became even more controversial. Heavily promoted by the country’s progressive government, tens of thousands of people packed together, shouting slogans and standing up for their rights.

At the time, the coronavirus was circulating aggressively in the country. On March 13, just five days later, Prime Minister Sanchez came on television announcing the country would go into a full lockdown in which no one would be allowed to leave home for non-essential purposes.

Many blamed the marches for spreading the virus and hampering a swift government reaction to the looming pandemic. Several government ministers who attended were infected over the next week.

Spain’s far-right party is pushing to convert March 8 into a national day of remembrance for victims of COVID-19.

*Writing by Rabia Iclal Turan

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