Right to participation in equal conditions of women in the Alarde parades

Institutional position of Ararteko on the participation of women in the Irun and Hondarribia displays (March 2013)

1. History

It has been over 15 years that this institution has received complaints related with the participation of women in different acts in local festivals, all traditions rooted in different municipalities of the Basque Country. Without a doubt, the most notable complaints have been those relating to the egalitarian participation of women in displays in Irun and Hondarribia, which began in 1996. Despite the numerous rulings of this institution in support of said participation, unfortunately, the exclusion of women lingers in the events, protected by private organisations which, exercising parapublic functions, intend to take away the democratic mandate of equality in the supposed defence of the integrity of tradition.

This subject has lead us to voice ourselves on several occasions by means of different recommendations, declarations and resolutions of the legal and social reach which, in our judgement, egalitarian participation of men and women have in the events. Other institutions, like the Basque Parliament and Emakunde have also manifested their favourable position in ending any discrimination of women in the events. Finally, the courts (the High Court of the Basque Country and the Supreme Court) also made declarations to the respect, recognizing the rights of women to participate under equal conditions with respect to male citizens in their town's festivals, when they are organised by the town halls.

Despite all this, these declarations have been sidestepped by the neglect of the respective town halls of the traditional public organization of the events, which since then have passed on to being organised by individuals, with the objective of eluding the application of the principal of equality, giving way to what we today know as a double and segregated festival: the egalitarian festival for all citizens, in which women and men participate in equal conditions, and the exclusive and discriminatory festival, in which women can only participate as barmaids, chosen by male members of the different companies (1).

2. Reasons for defending the full and egalitarian incorporation of women in the events

At the Ararteko institution we are completely convinced that it is necessary to achieve that all festivals in the Basque Country, also the events of Irun and Hondarribia, reflect an egalitarian society for men and women as a single social model possible in a democracy. The main arguments which we consider must be taken into account to support this position are the following:

2.1. Tradition and equality of men and women: the disregard for women in history. The festival as an expression of collective identity and social organisation

Those who oppose the egalitarian participation of women in festival acts, in general, put forward the argument of respect for tradition as the foundation to maintain a status quo of male predominance, with the stereotypical assignment of roles to women and men, whether it is in the festival's own expression or its organizational criteria.

There is no doubt that festivals are and have been throughout time a clear expression of the collective feeling of the moment, in many cases reflecting the keys of the organization and social structuring, the collective identity of each era. In this measure, they are manifestations of a serious symbolic load, which have reflected the disregard for women in the historic progression and which are, in turn, capable of feeding new performance patterns, generating an infernal circle for women, who are forced to remain invisible or relegated to stereotypical roles.

It is not acceptable for festivals to remain the last bastion of sexist expression tolerated by the public powers. On the contrary, it is necessary to adapt the tradition –independent of what the concrete historic substrate which gave way to the festive commemoration- to the egalitarian reality we are constructing, as a support for democracy and a society which recognises the fundamental rights of all.

2.2. Rights of people and majorities. Social sensitization as an essential public function to achieve real and effective equality

In the conflict for the participation of women in festival acts, it has been considered, in general, the convenience of gauging the major social opinion to clarify what the correct solution should be of the two opposing stances.

We want to call attention to the perversion of this way of proceeding. It is clear to this institution, and that is how we have expressed it in numerous declarations, that the exclusion of the egalitarian participation of women in festive acts supposes a violation of the principle of equality which is established in international and European constitutional regulations and different regulations (European Convention on Human Rights, among others) and, as a consequence, it is not subject to the judgement of morality or immorality of said conduct by the interplay of majorities.

Fundamental rights are, in any democratic system, taken from the interplay of majorities, a principle which is considered in the rule of conduct "rights are not voted" and which impedes any intent to legitimize a decision contrary to the egalitarian participation of women in festivals, no matter how it is supported by the majorities.

2.3. The private organization as a veil of the public responsibility underlying the festive atmosphere

Another essential question which underlies the conflict of the acts is the controversy surrounding the public or private ownership of the organization of said events. In general, the collaboration of groups of individuals who live in the municipality to a lesser o greater extent organize local festivals, although the responsibility for financing and the availability of certain material means (including personnel) ultimately falls, in the majority of cases, on the corresponding town hall.

However, the proposal for egalitarian participation of men and women in organised festival acts essentially implicates public powers, specifically town halls of affected towns. These, instead of encouraging and making this legitimate vindication, have joined in by granting private ownership of the organisation of said festival events, that way modifying the prior organisational status quo to fully transfer the festival organisation to private groups. The objective of this manoeuvre to transfer the ownership of the festivals has not been other than to take away said events from the egalitarian rule of principle and allow festivals to continue with the exclusion of women in equal roles of participation.

To this respect, we have the conviction that, in a democratic society, festivals with a relevant historic and social significance cannot be susceptible to private appropriation, but they should rather be owned by all citizens, more so when they are festivals which all citizens (men and women) of a municipality recognise them as their own and understand them to be an identifying element of the municipality which they belong to. In these cases, independent that the management of its organization is transferred to private entities or groups, only public ownership can guarantee the preservation of common cultural heritage and ensure full equality among individuals.

2.4. Obligations of public powers to promote equality of men and women in festivals

Regardless of what the level of implication is for the different public administrations in the organization and coordination of different festival events of Basque municipalities, there is no doubt that all public powers are obligated to remove the obstacles which impede equality from being effective and a reality. This pursues to achieve material equality, formally announced and establish the function of the Social State to actively involve itself –therefore leading to the Liberal State model, which limits itself to proclaiming formal equality of people- in the conquest for a real and effectively egalitarian society.

A significant clarification of these proactive duties has been produced as a consequence of the Basque Parliamentary Law 4/2005, of 18 February, for the Equality of Men and Women. The aforementioned law, in addition to expressly prohibiting the discriminatory acts which occur on the streets, contains precise laws so that the Basque public administrations may undertake positive actions which favour equality for men and women in all fields –in culture and festivals as well- and in this sense constitute an important instrument to implement the obligation of public powers to remove obstacles which impede real and effective equality.

3. Conclusion

Local public powers, as well as the rest of the Basque administration in the framework of their respective competencies, cannot give their back to the unyielding social advance, change and the deep transformation which society is living and that the Law wants to propel. That is why it is necessary for them not to collaborate with their explicit or implicit support, ambiguous or inhibited, to strengthen, in those places in the Basque Country where festivals are not egalitarian for men and women, a concept of amputated citizenship, which cannot have room in our democratic system and which regrettably constitutes the ideological base which feeds loathsome conducts in our society. On the contrary, it is especially important that all public institutions, each in their corresponding competent field, to actively and decisively implicate themselves in the promotion of egalitarian events for men and women without circumlocutions or vagueness.

Iñigo Lamarca



1. In Irun, there are two events which express this deplorable segregation: one is egalitarian, with men and women being equal, and another is discriminatory, without the participation of women, except as barmaids chosen by the companies. Annually in Hondarribia, a company, Jaizkibel, fearlessly and valiantly defends the right for women to participate in the festival exhibition, while the event which prohibits the participation of women continues to run the streets of the town.

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