By Susana Vera and Silvio Castellanos
MADRID (Reuters) – Miriam Gutierrez boxes with a mouthguard engraved with the words #genderviolence.
Beaten up by her partner when she was pregnant with her first child, the young Spaniard has since used boxing, and now politics, to champion women’s rights.
And she’s had quite a year.
Gutierrez, who has earned herself the nickname “The Queen” at her gym, became European lightweight boxing champion in March and was elected as a city councilor in a Madrid suburb in May.
Now, she is aiming for a world championship title while further spreading the word for women’s rights – all that in a country where the issue of gender violence has become very politicized, and divisive.
“My dream could not be destroyed by anything,” Gutierrez said in an interview at her boxing club, as warm and smiling out of the ring as she is focused in it.
The young mother of two recalled how when she was only 21, and eight months pregnant, her partner at the time beat her so severely that she gave birth prematurely – and covered in bruises.
“He hit me in the face in such a way that he broke several bones in my face and I fell to the ground. What I worried about first of all was whether my daughter still had a heartbeat”, Gutierrez said.
The child is now a teenager and doing well, and has a younger brother, both of whom support their mother in her boxing career.
But that came after a long struggle. First, Gutierrez quit boxing for about a year and a half, before going to see her coach, who encouraged her to get back into the ring.
She also started visiting schools, delivering speeches and giving self-defense classes to raise awareness about gender violence and bullying.
“There must be respect, something that nowadays often seem to be lacking anywhere you go,” she tells the youngsters.
Violence against women is a prominent issue in Spain now, where media report widely on every case involving women being killed by a partner or ex-partner. There are now just over a thousand such cases since official records began in 2003.
The issue was thrust back onto the agenda by the far-right Vox party, who won 24 seats in parliament in April on a platform that includes scrapping the gender violence law, which it says discriminates against men.
Gutierrez said that, being a newcomer in politics, she didn’t want to comment on the broader public debate, but that she was looking forward to pushing for women’s rights as a municipal councilor in Torrejon de Ardoz.
And she will also keep training hard.
“I’m going to be world champion, that’s for sure, and it’s not a dream, it will be a reality … it’s something I think about every day,” she said.
“I have no regrets because if everything I’ve been through has made me the person I am today, I’ll take that.”
(Reporting by Silvio Castellanos, Elena Rodriguez and Susana Vera; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Elena Rodriguez; Editing by Hugh Lawson)