Introduction Spanish women do not participate in formal politics to any great extent. For example, the number of female parliamentarians hovered around 6 per cent during most of the 1980s. This fact reflects a long history of conditions that have tended to alienate women from the political sphere. However, there is one political context in Spain in which women and men participate in practically equal numbers. This is the so-called neighbourhood movement or citizens' movement (movimiento vecinal or movimiento ciudadano) which was born as a semi-legal resistance movement during the Franco regime. Its express purpose was to improve conditions in the areas of towns and cities (barrios) where poor people lived, but since this entailed a struggle against the dictatorship, 'participatory democracy' became an integral objective. It was around the time of the transition to democracy, in the late 1970s, that women started joining the movement in greater numbers, and they are still increasing. The study of this movement is important because it can elucidate the relationship between the gender order, the political order and cultural change.