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Living under the rule of women

Women on the island of Kinhu.
Women on the island of Kinhu. / SUR
  • international women's day

  • Zamarramala and Kinhu. The Spanish town and the Estonian island both put women in the driving seat, but in different ways

Searching for a holiday destination around 8 March, International Women's Day, could draw our attention to places where women's rights have a special significance. The historical bravery of mothers, wives and daughters has led to a famous annual event in a village near Segovia, while on an Estonian island women rule all year round.

Zamarramala

The beauty of the magnificent Segovia is best seen from outside - from the hill where the village of Zamarramala is. Now part of the municipality of Segovia, until 1970 Zamarramala was an independent village with its unusual customs.

To this day Zamarramala is famous for its women's tradition. For centuries every February a festival known as Festival de Santa Águeda (St Agatha's Day) has been celebrated here with pomp by the local women. They take total power, albeit for one day only. As for the local men, they take this women's superiority easy as they consider it as a sort of Thanksgiving Day.

The women really deserved their thanks in 1227. The Moors had occupied the Alcázar fortress in Segovia. While the men were preparing to attack and reconquer the fortress, the women of Zamarramala risked their lives to distract its occupants by entertaining them with dancing. Since then the feat of those women has been remembered as a festival. Every year on the Sunday after 5 February the guests of honour wear special striped skirts, extravagant earrings and other various relics. On that day, the women of Zamarramala are not only honoured, but they are entitled to govern the village.

This year’s symbolic ‘alcaldesas’ take over from the mayor of Segovia.

This year’s symbolic ‘alcaldesas’ take over from the mayor of Segovia. / SUR

According to the tradition, they elect two women to be the Alcaldesas (mayors) - to run the city's affairs during the day. At the end of the day a man is ceremonially burned by the women - they set fire to a stuffed effigy representing a man in the main square. This has come to represent the women's rebellion against a male-dominated society. Thanks to this local Women's Day, Zamarramala has been declared as a place of national tourist interest.

The island of Kihnu, Estonia

On 8 March millions of women will call for equality and to draw attention to the challenges they still have to face in many areas of daily life. But life on the Estonian island of Kihnu, lost in the Baltic Sea, is quiet. Nothing special happens on International Women's Day because the spirit of the day is here throughout the year, as it has been for decades and even centuries. The local women don't need to struggle for equality and demand their rights because on Kihnu they already have them. Since ancient times, people on the island have lived under women's rule.

The Kihnu women began to govern the island at the same time as men started fishing. The fishermen used to go out to sea for months at a time, leaving the women on their own.

So they had to learn to manage without men's help. In order to survive, the local women eventually took over the control. In the end this little island in the Baltic Sea became home to one of the world's last matriarchal societies.

Today all this feminism on Kihnu is more associated with folk traditions than with female dominance. Thanks to the women, the unique culture has been preserved. Even nowadays the Kihnu women proudly wear "kört" - traditional homespun woollen vertically striped skirts, as well as ornamented mittens and "troi", symbolising the ethnicity.

The Kihnu women often gather at the community centre to play games and for almost non-stop dancing and singing traditional songs. That is mainly why 17 years ago Unesco proclaimed the island Kihnu as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Kihnu is often called a women's paradise. So, after the regular struggle for equality in society here in Spain, women may do well to relax by spending some time on the island where to be a woman is synonymous with strength and power.