Women in Mexico are sick of being raped, tortured and killed.
On March 9, 2020 women in Mexico City vanished from the streets as they took part in a 24-hour strike to protest femicide. It was called “A Day Without Us” or “UnDiaSinNosotras” as women stayed home from school, work and public life to raise awareness of gender based violence and the inaction on the part of the government and justice system.
The strike took place the day after 800,000 women took to the streets for International Women’s Day, signifying the widespread discontent over the ingrained culture of violence against women in the country.
The protestors were mostly peaceful but there was a violent contingent. Masked women broke barriers, smashed windows and spray painted messages. There was criticism that these deviant acts took away from their cause but this is just a way to undermine feminist frustrations. In many ways this is a last resort, “we shout and shout and nothing happens,” activist Carolina Barrales puts it.
An estimated 10 women are killed each day in Mexico and police are investigating more than 700 cases of femicide, the killing of women because of their gender, often by someone they know. According to the National Human Right Commission in Mexico, around 90% of femicides in the country go unpunished.
These days of action followed outrage over two particularly brutal murders in February. Police arrived at a home in northern Mexico City to find a 46-year-old man covered in blood. He confessed to killing, skinning and mutilating his 25-year-old partner Ingrid Escamilla.
Pictures of her disfigured corpse were leaked to the media and one paper, Pasala, printed the photo with the caption, “It was cupid’s fault.” This sparked outrage from activists as the image swirled around online. Feminists uploaded photos of landscapes tagging her name so that when people went looking for the gruesome photo they’d be met with sunsets and starscapes instead.
People made jokes and memes about her death on social media, even going as far to call it a “cabrito” – a north Mexican dish of roasted young goat cut open down the middle with the insides exposed. The commentary on her murder proved victim-blaming is alive and well.
Harder to blame was a 7-year-old girl named Fatima Aldrighett who was abducted outside her school. She was abused and tortured before her body was found four days later in a garbage bag by the side of the road.
Unfortunately this form of gruesome violence has a long history in Mexico. The border city of Ciudad Juarez is known to be a hub for the systematic killing of women. Hundreds of women have died due to femicide there since 1993.
But cases of femicide in the country have more than doubled over the last five years to more than 1,000 in 2019, according to Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security.
This increase is cause for these ramped up days of protest but it’s important to situate these events within the wider context of feminist resistance some are terming a “feminist spring.” In recent months the feminist anthem, Un Violador en Tu Camino (A Rapist in Your Path) exploded out of protests in Chile and has been performed in over 50 countries.
This follows the North American #MeToo movement that saw women worldwide sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media. And before there was #MeToo there was #NiUnaMenos which has been used in feminist actions across Latin America including alongside #UnDiaSinNosotras.
“Ni Una Menos” means “Not One Less”, recognition that we can’t afford to lose even one more girl to gender-based violence. The phrase originated out of the systematic killings in Ciudad Juarez in 1995 but gained traction as a movement in Argentina in 2015 following femicides in the country.
So while Mexico has been in the feminist protest spotlight the past week, it’s part of something much larger. Without taking away from the regionality of the protests, it seems like the world is finally listening to the plight of women.
But change will likely be slow. Following the march and strike, Mexican president López Obrador, known as Amlo, called women’s movements “very important” but at the same time offered no specific policy change to address femicide.
Almo has blamed gender-based violence on a legacy of neoliberal governments before him, completely missing the point that the current frustrations are about the ingrained culture of machismo, not about rival political regimes. He’s also cast himself as the victim of conspiracy, saying conservatives are co-opting the feminist movement in the country to make his administration look bad.
With this disappointing response, it is clear that Mexican activists cannot and will not stop fighting. Women are fed up that rape, torture and murder is met with relative impunity. While progress is proving to be slow and strenuous, feminists have managed to garner significant momentum.
The world cannot afford to ignore them any longer.