The militia women made the difference in the Spanish Civil War. Photo: reproduction

The first fighters wore the blue uniform typical of workers' militias. They were the libertarian women (anarchists), to which the socialists and communists were soon joined. In the civil war that tore apart Spain between 1936 and 1939, women occupied positions in factories, took over infirmaries and also went to the front.


Only Coluna Aguiluchos, organized by the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), had 200 militia members. Foreigners also enlisted on other anti-fascist fronts, including the French philosopher Simone Weil. Slight and without military training, Simone ended up reaffirming her pacifism after passing through an anarchist unit.


It fell to another Frenchwoman, Marina Ginestà, to star in an iconic image of female participation in the conflict. A member of the Socialist Youth, Marina was 17 when she posed with a rifle on her back, on the terrace of the Hotel Colón, in Barcelona, ​​for the German photographer Hans Gutmann. It was July 1936 and Marina's gaze could not have been more challenging.


The image remained in the archives of the Efe news agency until it began to travel around the world, in 2002. Four years later, a researcher at the agency identified the pictured one. “At 17, I was in no condition to make war,” Marina said, remembering that she had posed with a borrowed rifle. She lived in Paris until January 2014, when she passed away, aged 94.


At the time of the photograph, Marina acted as an interpreter for the Soviet journalist Mikhail Koltsov, a correspondent for the newspaper Pravda. Marina fought without taking up arms, but girls younger than her gave life to the anti-fascist cause. One of them, Victoria López Práxedes, died at age 16 in the Battle of Talavera de La Reina in September 1936.


To gain space on the front, women of all ages had to battle both fascism and the prejudices of their own trench colleagues. In the end, they lost the war to the fascists led by General Francisco Franco, but they entered history with their heads held high. Inspired by this process, Spanish filmmaker Vicente Aranda filmed Libertarians. Below is a link to the movie trailer:


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