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Role of the Woman during the Spanish Civil War Synthesis Essay


In many wars, women have played hidden roles. They have not engaged in wars directly. Therefore, engagement through direct confrontation in the battlefield has always been preconceived as an affair of men since time immemorial. However, this notion was not the case for the Spanish war.

During the Spanish war that happened from 1936 to1939, Mujeres Libre’s leadership influenced women. Consequently, they put effort to establish a myriad of programs to help the entire nation.

Women were charged with the roles of setting dining halls from where men who were part of the militia could eat. They also provided health care to the injured persons (Hugh, 2003, p.98).

This assertion suggests that women were best suited to take roles involving the provision of first aid and other related nursing work for the casualties coupled with feeding the men who were taking part in the war. As this paper argues, this was not the case for Spanish civil war.

Women rose from one rank of the military to another. In the new ranks, they were engaged in classes that offered lessons on the proper use of firearms coupled with a good targeting practice.

Given that the war destabilised most of the institutions in Spain, women also played pivotal roles in ensuring that the services offered at various institutions such as health care were offered continuously.

For example, a class of influential women emerged concentrated on teaching other women about sexuality, ways of birth control, and general health. These women also put up hospitals, which principally focused on prenatal care.

Women were also instrumental in reclaiming the rights of workers in Spain during the civil war. With these arguments in mind, this paper analyses these roles as played by women in the Spanish civil war.

Women Served as Nurses

Following the outbreak of the civil war in Spain in 1936, the Spanish people were subdivided into various politically motivated groups. Such groups included republican’s anarchists, socialists, communists, and the nationalists.

The war made it impossible for the economy to function effectively. Workers assumed the noble roles of ensuring that the nation continued to be stable. In this effort, “worker committees collectivised factories and agrarian areas into libertarian communes” (Hugh, 2003, p.23).

Indeed, workers’ organizations such as IAF (Iberian Anarchist Federation) and NCF (national federation of labour) among others formed powerful elements of control of workforce coupled with their committees.

As this took place, various groups of women assembled to strive for liberation of women from various revolutionary practices instigated by the civil war.

The above quest leads to the establishment of Mujeres Libres as an organisation, which endeavoured to fight hard for the rights of Spanish women.

According to Hugh (2003), throughout Spain, women focused on engaging in war with the hope of helping workers reclaim their rights (p.40). During the Spanish war, women played pivotal roles through the Mujeres Libre in the reclaiming of their female gender rights.

For instance, before the civil war, women who participated in nursing only did so in the capacity of the nuns.

War created an immense shortage of health care service providers to the extent that Spain relied on the importation of competent nurses from other parts of the world and on competent health care service volunteers to offer health care services (Hugh, 2003).

Nevertheless, as the war intensified, with more people being wounded, the traditional customs changed so that even women who did not serve as nuns though of the Spanish origin were recruited to serve as nurses.

Apart from working as nurses, such women also prepared foods, which they served to the soldiers before leaving for the battlefields.

It is important to state that the fact that many women during the Spanish war found themselves working as nurses does not mean that nursing is a feminine profession.

The argument is that, during the Spanish war, women were able to execute tasks they found important and supportive to the society. Participation in nursing tasks was a magnificent achievement of the Spanish women.

In 1930s, they were exempted to participate in the profession unless they were nuns. Admin (2012) supports this argument by arguing that nursing was a reserve of nuns in the history of Spain (Para.3). Unfortunately, the implications of the Spanish war made this custom unfeasible.

This means that women from other fields were required to fill the service gaps created by incidences of increased war casualties.

In this regard, the Spanish civil war was a great revelation and a mechanism of calling to an end the discrimination of certain women in certain professions such as nursing.

This impact of the Spanish war is even clearer by consideration of the fact that the war had the implications of making women take up the jobs that originally belonged to men in the industries while men engaged in the battle.

This role was not an option but a necessity to keep the Spanish economy moving forward.

Roles of Spanish Women in the Industries

In the zone of republicans, industries are one of the most significant occupational areas that women excelled.

Admin (2012) supports this assertion when he informs, “As a precursor to British women’s involvement in the war effort during World War II, Spanish women frequently took the jobs of their husbands as they joined militias and the popular army “(Para.4).

In fact, the ruling of the Spanish regime in 1936 evidences that, once men became part of the band of soldiers, they were highly advised to ensure that their positions were taken up by close members of their homes.

This case was necessarily to ensure that, although men would principally be anticipated to fully engage in war, the persons taking up their industrial jobs would ensure that the families of such men acquired basic necessities just as it could have been the case should the men have continued to work in the industries.

Many of the men left their jobs to their wives. This way, it was possible to keep the war industry of Spain moving.

Apart from the republican side, the role of women in the industries during the Spanish war was also well established among the Francoist.

From this paradigm, Gina (2006) reckons, “despite the conservative nature of Fascism, women were still heavily involved in the war, as it can be seen in their active involvement by working in the emergency food facilities established for nationalist troops” (p.21).

During the first year into the Spanish war, republicans who supported anarchism encountered an immense revolutionary change. The result was the emergence of myriad of collectives.

This emergence was an effort to create a new form of agrarian society in which land was collectivized in favour of pueblo.

Land was also taken away from the private owners. Due to the ideologies of equality possessed by anarchists, collectivist women acquired responsibility tantamount to that given to men. The community therefore anticipated them to work equally like men.

This situation meant that agricultural chores were to be shared equally between men and women.

Admin (2012) further emphasises this role of women in the agricultural industrial sector by asserting that people who were members of the collective were to be assigned roles without considering their gender (Para. 5).

Apart from being engaged in productive labour in the industrial sector, during the Spanish civil war, women were also engaged directly in the battlefields with their male counterparts.

However, much of the literature on these noble roles of women during the war fails to address these concerns exhaustively.

Roles of Spanish women in Battlefields during Spanish Civil War

Malicianas played critical roles during the Spanish civil war. While appreciation of their roles in the efforts of war for the republicans is important, the literature of the roles of women in Spanish civil has been surrounded by various misconceptions.

Authors such as Lines (2009) cite one of these misconceptions as that women never engaged equally in the war with men (p.169). Some critics also argue that women did not engage in roles that were complicated especially in the combats.

Others argue that women only played roles in the Spanish civil war that did not threaten their lives (Lines, 2009). The degree of accurateness of these assertions is dependent on evaluation of the roles that were played by Spanish women in the war combat fields.

Amid the underlying misconceptions cited above, evidence shows that women engaged equally in the Spanish civil war as their male counterparts.

For instance, according to Marín, many Milicianas in anarchists coupled with communists and women who served in the units of the republican army engaged in actual combat much similar to men (1996).

This was a hefty burden to them since traditionally seated perceptions of gender roles in Spain were still intact. Apart from engagements in combats, women were also anticipated to conduct domestic chores such as cleaning, laundry work, and cooking among other tasks.

In an interview with women combats in the Spanish war, Lines (2009) cites a particular case of a woman, Dolors Marín, who recounts her roles and the roles of the other women who served in the anarchists Milicianas during the Spanish civil war between 1936 and 1939.

Dolors Marín argues that, upon analysing the contributions of men in the civil war, women did the same. She retaliates that, although they had to do extra roles such as cooking, they were also well endowed with the capacity to stage a strong guard tantamount to their male counterparts.

For instance, during the Belchite attacks, women accompanied men to retaliate against the attacks (Lines (2009).

Marín (1996) further supports this evidence by claiming that women did what they were able to do in the battlefields not in the capacity of being women but in the capacity of being human beings who are able to stage a defence (p.356).

According to Marín (1996), some women were stronger relative to men. This argument is paramount since it implies that women felt that the Milicianas had strong perceptions that their contribution in the war measured up to the contribution given by men.

Consequently, it implies that the traditional perceptions of conservative Spain that some roles and jobs were better suited to men as opposed to women were opened to criticism and invalidations.

During the POUM period, which was headed by Mika Etchebéhère, the role of the females in the battle was much similar to that played by their male counterparts.

Lines (2009) supports this argument by further stating that all tasks undertaken during the column whether supportive or even combats were shared equally without consideration of gender divisions (p.179).

Evidence makes it clear that women roles in the Spanish civil war were not limited to nursing activities and domestic chores.

For instance, Lines (2009) claims, “Captain Fernando Saavedra of the Sargento Vázquez Battalion reported on the military activity of three female combatants in his unit, Ángeles, Nati, and Paca” (p.171).

During a 1939 interview with Cronica newspaper, the captain was quoted saying that female comrades with rifles had joined him in the war missions. The captain admired the women claiming some were even braver relative to men.

The women could get into trenches, launch guards, and fight in the manner that men fought (Lines, 2009).

The experiences of women in the Spanish civil war did not depend on the political group to which they were affiliated. Unaffiliated Milicianas, communists, socialists, and even anarchists all took central and complicated roles during the civil war (Marín, 1996).

In the attempt to provide evidence for his arguments, Marín (1996) recounts the experiences of women in the Spanish civil war through the discussion of Lina Odena who was a famous Miliciana whose demise was encountered during a combat in the Spanish civil war.

She was one of the members of the JSU (United Socialist Youth). Lina Odena headed antifascist resistance. During the war in July 1936, Lina Odena organised a militia group at Almeria, which is located in the south of Spain. Here, she operated as a front liner combatant.

On leaving Almeria, she proceeded to Guandix where again she fought as front liner and as a leader of her militia group. She also travelled over various sectors of Granada front where she was in charge of commanding her militia unit (Marín, 1996).

Playing these roles in the Spanish civil war earned her the post of commandant, which in the Spanish military was principally a reserve for men.

The bad fate for Lina Odena engulfed her on 13th of September 1936 when she and her comrades were on a night war mission. When they got lost, the nationalists discovered her and her comrades. They (nationalist) furiously short unto them.

Lina Odena and her comrades also responded with fire although the nationalists were too many for them to handle with success. In the fear that she could run out of ammunition, Lina Odena only found it wise to spare the last bullet for taking her own life (Marín, 1996).

Her decisions to commit suicide was not by chance since, tantamount to what her male counterparts went through upon being detained by the enemies, she was well alert of the disgust of defacement.

Being a woman, the situation was even worse, as the captured women combatants often under went through horrifying experiences of rape in the hands of enemies before they were eventually killed (Gina, 2006).

Although Lina Odena did not live up to see her success in an attack that she had engineered, her unit later succeeded in the attacks against the nationalists. In fact, Lina Odena’s suicide was considered a noble act and was immensely aired on sovereign, collectivists, and Marxist presses.

This earned her the tag of being a legend of the republican Spanish civil war. Form the discussion of the Lina Odena experiences in the Spanish civil war; it is evident that women took active roles in combat.

Therefore, they also earned form their respective political groups of affiliation the crown of braveness and heroine for Spanish civil war.

During the Spanish civil war, many women fought as militia. Nevertheless, some of them joined the republican army. Esperanza Rodríguez is one of such women who are discussed by Lines (2009) with regard to their life experiences in the Spanish civil from 1936 to 1939.

Esperanza fought in the company of men against fascists. In the execution of this role, her captain described her as one the bravest battalion (Lines, 2009, p.178).

Lines (2009) further reports her as one of the best warriors as she was not only the first one to shoot at the enemies, but also hardly missed her target.

She could work tirelessly to ensure success of the missions of her battalion members. Jackson (1999) supports this assertion by arguing that, in one of the militia confrontations, she spent more than eleven hours standing on foot while shooting (p. 87).

Many of the milicianas that participated in the Spanish civil war were composed of mixed genders. However, a women-only-battalion took its place in the war in Madrid (Jackson, 1999).

Evidence of existence of this battalion disapproves the argument that women only took roles in the Spanish civil war that did not pose any serious threats to their lives.

Testimonies given by foreign observers on the involvement of women in the Spanish civil war claim that some women showcased more courage, braveness, and even valour in comparison to their men counterparts.

Consequently, the Spanish civil war altered the positions of the Spanish women in the society in the extent that, in all roles played by men in the society, it became evident that women could also perform exemplarily.


During the war in 1930s and 1940s, it was common for women to be left behind by men taking care of children and doing other household chores. In some situations, women would offer nursing services to persons injured in military confrontations.

Such roles applied to Spanish women during the Spanish civil war in 1936 to 1939. However, in addition, women were also engaged in military confrontations in the battlefields where they participated in war as members of militia groups.

The paper argued that these roles of women in the battlefields are among the issues that are not sufficiently addressed in many of the literatures on women studies because of the misconception that women do not play active roles in the battlefields.

The paper holds that the case of Spanish women experiences in the Spanish civil war overrules this assertion. In Spain, women even served as commanders of battalions and as planners of attacks. Many of these attacks yielded fruits.

Reference List

Admin, S. (2012). . Web.

Gina, H. (2006). Voices of the Vanquished: Leftist women and the Spanish Civil War. Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 4(1), 18-32.

Hugh, T. (2003). The Spanish Civil War. London: Penguin.

Jackson, G. (1999). A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War. London: Thames and Hudson.

Lines, L. (2009). Female Combatants in the Spanish Civil War: Milicianas on the Front Lines and in the Rearguard. Journal of International Women Studies, 10(3), 168-187.

Marín, D. (1996). Las Libertarias. In Ingrid Strobl, Partisanas: La mujer en la resistencia armada contra el fascismo y la ocupación alemana (1936-1945). Barcelona: Virus.

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1. IvyPanda. "Role of the Woman during the Spanish Civil War." January 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/role-of-the-woman-during-the-spanish-civil-war/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "Role of the Woman during the Spanish Civil War." January 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/role-of-the-woman-during-the-spanish-civil-war/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Role of the Woman during the Spanish Civil War'. 27 January.

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