SPAIN: ‘Explicit manifestations of gender-based violence are just the tip of the iceberg’

IsabelAbellaCIVICUS speaks with Isabel Abella Ruiz de Mendoza about the systemic macho violence faced by women in sport, evidenced in a recent case of abuse of power by the highest authority of the Spanish football federation.

Isabel is a sportswoman and is responsible for the equality and children and adolescents in two handball clubs. She is a founding partner and director of Abella Legal, a law firm, and an equality consultant specialising in the field of work and sport. From 2018 to 2013 she led the Basque Service against sexual harassment and gender-based harassment in sport in the Basque Country.

What were the public reactions to the non-consensual public kissing of female player Jenni Hermoso by the president of the football federation?

The non-consensual kiss that Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, gave Jenni Hermoso during the celebration of the Spanish team’s victory in the Women’s World Cup was just one of the visible, and still normalised, faces of macho violence.

In the typology of manifestations of male violence that women face on a daily basis in the workplace, or as in this case in sport, this is violence of a sexual nature. However, it is important to bear in mind that behind this expression of violence, there are likely other forms of psychological, economic and social violence, both against her and against her close environment, as well as against many people who have supported her, even in the virtual realm.

In the face of this, public opinion has been divided. There are those of us who believe we have a responsibility to work for equality in sport and to eradicate all expressions of sexist violence. However, others have trivialised, minimised, denied, ignored and ridiculed this episode. This diversity of reactions reflects various levels of feminist awareness among people.

Why did the sporting authorities take so long to condemn the episode?

What training in equality do the people leading these organisations have? Being a highly masculinised sector, how many have become aware of and developed critical thinking against hegemonic masculinity and its practices? How many have listened to the players and professional women in the sector? How many have renounced their privileges? How many have committed themselves to a personal project of transformation? What instruments to tackle and eradicate discrimination against women in football have they designed and implemented? What effective measures have they adopted?

All these questions could bring us closer to the causes of the timing of the reactions and the measures taken.

Do you think that this incident is indicative of deeper problems?

Indeed, a non-consensual kiss is a visible and explicit manifestation of male violence, a part of what is known as the tip of the iceberg, and hides the structural discrimination that women face in all areas of life, including sport and work.

This event is not a one-off event. Discrimination and sexist violence against women in sport are present in all disciplines and in all areas of sport and work.

We owe a big thankyou to the players of the national team because they are succeeding in prying open big cracks in the machismo of sport. Their struggle is yet another example of the long way we still have to go to achieve a fair and discrimination-free sport.

Civic space in Spain is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with Abella Legal through its website and follow @AbellaLegal on Twitter and Instagram.



25  Owl Street, 6th Floor
South Africa,
Tel: +27 (0)11 833 5959
Fax: +27 (0)11 833 7997

CIVICUS, c/o We Work
450 Lexington Ave
New York
NY 10017
United States

11 Avenue de la Paix
Tel: +41.79.910.34.28