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Free Women’s Contributions to Working-Class Women’s Sexual Education During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and Beyond


by Elisenda Giner, Laura Ruiz, Mª Ángeles Serrano & Rosa Valls — 2016

Background/Context: Women’s sexuality, and the ways they experience it, has been a major topic in feminist theories and movements throughout history. For the more than 20,000 working-class women who participated in the Free Women movement in Spain (the libertarian women’s movement, which started in 1936), women’s sexuality was also a key topic in both their process of empowerment and their claims and activities.

Purpose: The objective of this article is twofold. First, it explores the ways in which the Free Women movement helped improve the personal lives of women in that period. Second, this article analyzes how the libertarian women’s movement contributed to the sexual education and encouraged other women to have sexual and affective relationships free of violence.

Research Design: The article is constructed based on the life stories of two women who participated in the Free Women’s movement. Our analysis also draws from an in-depth review of literature on the libertarian movement and sexual education as well as of historical documents about the libertarian movement of that time.

Findings/Results: Our data reveal that thousands of women experienced personal transformations through their involvement in the libertarian movement, a social revolution that affected the entire society. Reflections on free love, the eradication of prostitution, and the promotion of “conscious motherhood” were leading ideas in both the educational activities that Free Women organized for working-class women and in the activists’ own personal lives. These women’s ideas on sexuality contributed to the creation of a society with more egalitarian and free relationships based on mutual support, solidarity, and collective and community-based action. This article shows how the Free Women were historically independent agents whose multiple achievements and transformations have been largely ignored.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The article concludes by discussing how the main features of the Free Women’s libertarian women’s movement are present in the preventive socialization of gender violence that is currently being developed in some educational projects in Spain. In particular, the Free Women’s contributions help students construct relationships free of violence.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 4, 2016, p. 1-38
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19361, Date Accessed: 10/18/2017 11:51:11 PM

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About the Author
  • Elisenda Giner
    University of Barcelona
    E-mail Author
    ELISENDA GINER holds a Ph.D. in pedagogy and is an assistant professor in the Didactics of Language and Literature Department at the University of Barcelona. She is a teacher in higher vocational education and advanced family professional community services. Her research and publications focus on social inclusion of at-risk collectives, gender, and dialogic reading.
  • Laura Ruiz
    University of Edinburgh
    E-mail Author
    LAURA RUIZ is postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Education, Community and Society of the University of Edinburgh. At present she is leading a research on socio-educative actions that are overcoming inequalities in Spain and the United Kingdom, cofunded by the Government of Catalonia Beatriu de Pinos Programme and the Marie Curie Actions of the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Commission. Her research activities encompass the investigation of education and the ways for overcoming inequalities, history of education, the libertarian women’s movement, and cultural groups. Dr. Ruiz has been member of several Spanish and European-funded R&D projects. She is author of the book Free Women (Mujeres Libres): Voices and Memories for a Libertarian Future (2011), published by Sense Publishers, and coauthor with Maria Padrós of Development Learning Through Dialogue—Learning Centres in Spain (2006), published by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), United Kingdom, and the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE). Some of her scientific publications are “Contributions of the Libertarian Movement to the Women's Education” in Social and Education History (2012); “How to Move From Power-Based to Dialogic Relations? Lessons from Roma Women” in the European Journal of Education (2011); and “Other Women in Research: Overcoming Social Inequalities and Improving Scientific Knowledge Through the Inclusion Of All Voices” in Qualitative Inquiry (2011).
  • Mª Ángeles Serrano
    University of Barcelona
    E-mail Author
    M. ÁNGELES SERRANO holds a Ph.D. in sociology and is an assistant professor in gender equality policies at the Rovira i Virgili University (Tarragona). Her research focuses on the social inclusion of nonacademic women in public debate spaces, where she has a long career. Her recent publications in the field appear in Intangible Capital, where she analyses how to promote the inclusion and participation of nonacademic women in educational centers or Qualitative Inquiry, where the misunderstandings on romantic love and gender violence are clarified.
  • Rosa Valls
    University of Barcelona
    E-mail Author
    ROSA VALLS is professor at the Department of Theory and History of Education, University of Barcelona, and Deputy Director of CREA, Centre of Research in Theories and Practices that Overcome Inequalities (http://creaub.info/). Her research lines are about adult and community education, transformative learning, Schools as Learning Communities, participation, social inclusion, and gender violence. She has participated in more than 15 national and European R&D projects, leading 9 of them, funded by the Spanish National Plan for Research, Development and Innovation or by the European Commission. Among these investigatons, she has been member of the research team of the INCLUD-ED project. Strategies for inclusion and social cohesion from education in Europe (6th FP, 2006–2011), the only research in the Social Sciences and Humanities selected by the European Commission among the 10 success stories in the Framework Program of Research for its added value. Some of her main publications in internationally ranked journals are: “Contributions for Eradicating Gender Violence: Female Empowerment and Egalitarian Dialogue in the Methodological Foundations of FACEPA Women’s Group” in Qualitative Inquiry (2014); “The Power of Interactive Groups: How Diversity of Adults Volunteering in Classroom Groups Can Promote Inclusion and Success for Children of Vulnerable Minority Ethnic Populations” in the Cambridge Journal of Education (2013); “Using Dialogic Research to Overcome Poverty: From Principles to Action” in the European Journal of Education (2011), and “Gender Violence Amongst Teenagers: Socialization and Prevention,” in Violence Against Women (2008). Additionally, Dr. Valls is author of several books and chapters, including Dialogic Learning: A Communicative Approach to Teaching and Learning (EEUU, 2007); The Praeger Handbook of Education and Psychology. EEUU (2008); and Dialogical Learning in Popular Education Movements in Spain (UK, 2005).
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