She Waited Long Enough – Clara Campoamor

«(…)Resolved lo que queráis, pero afrontando la responsabilidad de dar entrada a esa mitad de género humano en política, para que la política sea cosa de dos, porque solo hay una cosa que hace un sexo solo: alumbrar; las demás las hacemos todos en común, y no podéis venir aquí vosotros a legislar , a votar impuestos, a dictar deberes, a legislar sobre la raza humana, sobre la mujer y sobre el hijo, aislados, fuera de nosotras. (El voto femenino y yo. Editorial Horas. Madrid, 2006)»

All women are in debt with Clara Campoamor. On the 1rst October 1931 this deputy of the Spanish Radical Socialist Party gave a brilliant speech before the Congress of Deputies, which led to the approval of the right to vote for women. But this giant step towards equal rights cost her political career. The Madrilenian had to face opponents even within her own party. Finally, female suffrage went ahead with 161 votes in favour and 121 against and she went down in history as one of the most outstanding deputies of the Second Spanish Republic. She was one of the 21 deputies of the Constitutional Commission and from there she fought with courage in favour of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex, the legal equality of the children in and out of marriage, divorce and the female vote.

Clara Campoamor Rodríguez was born in Madrid, in 1888, in a humble family of liberal-progressive thinking. In 1898, the year in which Spain lost what was left of it’s colonial empire, Clara also suffered the loss of her father, and the mother, having to take care of her and her brother is forced to retake her job as a seamstress. The economic situation of Spain at the end of the nineteenth century did not lend itself to many economic opportunities, which, coupled with the precariousness of the family, made Clara, barely 13 years old, forced to leave school and start working with her mother.

Meanwhile, society was evolving and the idea of the female vote was making its way among the Spaniards. Clara was already twenty years old when, in 1908, the British House of Commons approved, albeit with restrictions, female suffrage. Six days later, on March 9, Emilio Alcalá-Galiano, asked in Congress for the female vote, arguing a paradox that could hardly be rebutted: “Women in Spain can be queens but not electors”, a motion that didn’t prosper. Eight days later, when the new Local Administration Regime Law was being debated, the amendment to article 41 of the bill by the deputy Francisco Pi y Arsuaga is put into question. He proposed, for the first time in Spanish history, that married women of legal age, can vote in municipal elections, a proposal that was not successful either.

When Clara Campoamor began its fight for political rights there were only three women in the chamber: the socialist Margarita Nelken, Victoria Kent and Campoamor herself. Two of them stood against women being able to vote, in a system that allowed them to be elected, but not elective. While the women of Finland (1906), Denmark (1915), or the United States (1920) could already exercise this right, the Spanish women were still unable to do so. This debate offered them the possibility of equating political rights with men, but also of placing themselves at the forefront of countries such as France, which did not approve it until 1944. At the beginning of their struggle Campoamor counted with both the opposition on the right and from sectors of the left (as the socialist Indalecio Prieto). While conservatives thought women were not qualified to vote, progressive parties argued for electoral reasons, worried that women (especially in rural areas) would vote to the right if given a chance. In the debate summoned in the courts, Clara Campoamor sought a rival to her height: the Deputy Victoria Kent, whom she faced in one of the most relevant dialectic and intellectual debates.

“I think it is not the time to give the vote to the Spanish woman” argued Kent, attending electoral ends. She advocated for a postponement in its concession. “If Spanish women were all workers, if Spanish women had already passed a university period and were liberated in their conscience, I would stand today in front of the whole Chamber to ask for the female vote” she said in a speech interrupted on several occasions by applauses. Then came the turn of Campoamor, picking up the witness of the former deputy and beginning a brilliant intervention: “Ladies and gentlemen, far from censuring or attacking the statements of my colleague, Miss Kent, I understand, on the contrary, the torture of their spirit having seen today in the process of denying the initial capacity of women”. In a speech, one of a kind that is not often heard nowadays, and loaded with questions (“Do not they suffer the consequences of legislation?, Do not they pay the taxes to support the state in the same way as men do?…”) as well as enlightening historical and statistical data (“the decrease in illiteracy is faster in women than in men”).

Campoamor managed to convince a Congress loaded with prejudices and suspicion. Finally, the chamber ended up approving the right to female suffrage that is today used by all the Spanish women. No politician, no deputy or representative has had a greater impact democracy in Spain than Clara Campoamor. To the perseverance and tenacity of this woman, the Spaniards owe no less than universal suffrage and the sense of modernity with which we know today. She was one of the first deputies in the first Cortes of the Second Republic and, from this position, she fought hard to get women to have the same electoral rights as men and to approve the first Divorce Law. Thus, what was a constant claim of a large number of generations in other countries, in Spain, however, was achieved at once, without apparent effort, because all the effort was made by one person: Clara Campoamor. The fundamental characteristic of this extraordinary woman is that she did not allow any electoral strategy to go before her ideology, a principle of political honesty that we have not yet achieved 80 years later.

Written by Cristina Català

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