‘Machismo Kills’: A Surge in Murders of Women Alarms Spain

The woman and her 8-year-old daughter lived a relatively quiet and anonymous life in an apartment in the riverside city of Valladolid in northern Spain. The mother worked for a small family business selling cosmetics; her daughter liked to go to synchronized swimming classes.

Then the two were stabbed to death this month, and prosecutors have brought charges against the mother’s partner, who was found next to the bodies.

The names of the pair, Paloma Pinedo Rodríguez and her daughter India López Pinedo, have now become rallying cries at protests across Spain amid a spate of killings of women that the government has vowed to address.

At least eight women are believed to have been murdered by current or former intimate partners this year alone, according to official statistics. That compared with at least 49 for all of last year, including 11 in December, the most in any month since record-keeping began in 2003. The latest attack occurred on Feb. 6, when a 47-year-old woman in the northwestern town of Baiona was killed by her former partner, according to officials.

“I feel that we live with our backs to this problem,” said Marina Talavera, 34, a photographer living in Madrid, referring to what is known in Spain as “machista,” or sexist, violence, ranging from harassment to killings.

Observing a minute of silence this month in front of the city hall in Baiona, Spain, in honor of a local woman who was killed by her former partner. Credit…Gustavo de la Paz/Europa Press, via Getty Images

She said that despite a surge of attention to the issue in the Spanish news media recently, she did not expect things to change. “We have always suffered from fear and violence. I have little hope.”

The recent spate of killings has piled pressure on the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to stop the violence.

The government has promised to take steps like creating checkpoints at health centers in rural areas where women can report violence. A new rule also went into effect last Friday requiring police officers to inform women who report abuse by their partners about any previous criminal history of abuse by them.

The government has also ordered Spanish courts to grant requests from female victims of male violence for their attackers to wear electronic tracking bracelets when they are released from jail.

“Until we eradicate machismo we will not put an end to male violence,” said Irene Montero, Spain’s equality minister, in an email, adding that the ministry would devote almost half of its budget this year — 261 million euros, or $280 million — to addressing violence against women.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez speaking in Parliament in December. Mr. Sánchez’s government is facing pressure in the wake of an increase in killings of women.Credit…Juan Carlos Hidalgo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Activists have also called for better psychological, economic and legal support for at-risk women and improved training for police investigators.

“The political pressure on the government has skyrocketed,” said Pablo Simón, professor of political science at University Carlos III of Madrid. He added that both parties in the governing coalition wanted to be seen as strong on defending women in a year when a general election must be held by the end of the year.

Spain is one of a handful of countries in the European Union that regard male violence against women as a product of gender inequalities and track the killings of women and children by men, according to the European Institute for Gender Inequality. Other European countries classify it in broader terms like domestic violence, and do not comprehensively track such killings. Spain’s relative rate of killings of women ranks below that of other European nations like Lithuania and Croatia, and is similar to that of Italy and Germany, according to Eurostat data from 2020.

In recent years, about 100 women have been murdered annually in Spain, around half of them by current or former intimate partners, according to official statistics. Among the 49 women in that category in 2022, 21 had filed a complaint with the authorities about abuse or harassment by those partners before their death.

“The lack of protection that women experience comes from the fear they feel when they report gender violence,” said Rosa San Segundo, a professor at the University Carlos III of Madrid and a specialist in gender violence.

Public awareness billboards about violence against women in Pamplona, Spain. An emergency phone number for victims of gender violence reported almost 94,000 calls in the first 11 months of 2022.Credit…Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

She added that women often did not trust the judicial system to protect them because it sometimes failed to take measures like issuing restraining orders or banning visits to women and their children by abusive partners.

Cristina Fabre, gender-based violence coordinator at the European Institute for Gender Equality, framed the issue this way: “When a woman is killed, most of the time it is a failure of the system that was not able to prevent the murder.”

The killings by partners are in addition to cases of intimidation, harassment and assault. Between January and November last year, an emergency phone number for victims of gender violence reported almost 94,000 calls, about 7 percent more than in the previous year.

What was alarming about the recent murders was that they were concentrated in a shorter period of time, said Ms. Fabre. “This was the scary thing.”

After each of the recent killings, women have marched in protests in Spanish towns and cities, brandishing slogans like “Machismo kills” and “I scream today in case I am not here tomorrow.” Similar protests have been held in Spanish cities for a number of years, but they have grabbed more mainstream attention with the recent spate of cases.

Irene Montero, Spain’s minister of equality, said her ministry would spend almost half its budget this year on addressing violence against women.Credit…Alberto Ortega/Europa Press, via Getty Images

Spain made headway on women’s rights last year when it joined countries like Sweden, Denmark and Canada in passing a law requiring affirmative consent for sex. Known as “only yes means yes,” the law was prompted by the filmed gang rape of an 18-year-old woman in the city of Pamplona in 2016. It makes clear that consent cannot be given if a person is unable to understand the situation because they are inebriated or asleep, and it also groups together some kinds of sex and abuse crimes.

As pressure has built this month to address sexist violence, the two government parties have clashed over how best to use that law to protect women. There has also been a backlash from far-right groups who oppose the law, pointing to the way it can allow the early release of sex offenders to argue that it needs changes. But women’s rights groups say the political tensions are distracting from the core issue.

“We are in a moment of struggle between the advances of feminism and a reactionary response,” said Carla Vall, a criminal lawyer and criminologist, adding that the legislation was a milestone for women’s rights.

But the debate over the law, and particularly the rhetoric from conservative and anti-feminist groups, had undermined the seriousness of the issue, she said: “This fight is hurting us.”

That has left many Spanish women wondering when the tide will turn.

“I have always been afraid and I think I will always be afraid,” said Vanesa Martín, an anthropologist from Madrid, who said the news of another killing made her fear that the country was going backward. “Women are losing a space that we had conquered.”

Mourning in Baiona this month.Credit…Gustavo de la Paz/Europa Press, via Getty Images

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