Muslim immigrants in Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the Balearic Islands in Spain, have succeeded in forcing the expulsion of all female parking meter enforcement officers from a city neighborhood that is home to a growing Muslim population.
The move reflects the increasing assertiveness of Spain's Muslim community, which in recent years, has sought to impose its will over Spanish society on a variety of issues deemed offensive to Islam.
Female parking enforcement officers patrolling the streets near a mosque situated on the Plaza de Pere Garau in downtown Palma have been subjected to a systematic campaign of harassment and humiliation by Muslims who insist that only male officers should be allowed to work in the area.
In recent weeks the tensions have escalated to the point where female parking officers have been verbally abused and spit upon by Muslim immigrants seeking to force the women out of the neighborhood.
Amid a growing concern for their physical safety, female employees have now been withdrawn from the area and replaced with an exclusively male workforce. The decision was made by a private company called Dornier SA, which runs a concession to manage the public parking system in Palma.
The move has outraged Spaniards across the political spectrum. Many conservatives, who view the issue within the larger question of Muslim integration, resent what they see as the gradual encroachment of Islamic norms in towns and cities across Spain.
On the Spanish left, which has long promoted Muslim immigration and the multicultural ideal, the conflict in Palma is being viewed as an infringement of women's rights, which are supposed to be guaranteed by the Spanish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UGT labor union, for example, has called on the Mayor of Palma, Mateo Isern, to enforce Spanish law and reassert municipal control over the Muslim neighborhood by reinstating the female officers, even if it requires that they be escorted by armed police when working in Muslim areas.
In a strongly worded statement dated September 4, UGT spokeswoman Maite Silva said the city council has an "obligation to ensure the freedom of workers to perform their duties and freedom of movement in the area." Silva said it was "intolerable" that Muslims are violating the rights of the population in general and women in particular.
She continued: "If the Palma City Council cannot prevent sex discrimination on city streets, the city should articulate the mechanisms at its disposal to separate from society those who are intolerant and who do not respect the laws of this country. It is unacceptable that in a free and democratic society female workers are prevented from doing their job because they are women."