Eleven women were murdered in Mexico on March 8 — International Women’s Day — as hundreds of thousands of people mobilised around the country to protest the rampant violence women face.
The following day, a large proportion of the country’s women participated in an action titled “One day without us”, and refused to work, shop, do housework or be active on social media.
The marches and strike were effective in challenging the violence and abuse against women that has been normalised and cloaked in impunity in Mexico.
Rage and momentum for the actions built up over February when a man murdered his partner, Ingrid Escamilla, then skinned her and removed her organs. Judicial authorities and the media colluded to print the photos of her body. Just days later, a 7-year-old girl was found in a plastic bag after she was raped, tortured and had her organs removed.
Women responded to the circulation of the exploitative and gory photos of Escamilla with an online campaign tagging Escamilla and posting photos and drawings of her face and of beautiful scenery, so that those would be the images she would be remembered by.
Last year, 3825 women were murdered in Mexico, though only a third were formally classified as femicides.
Two-thirds of women in Mexico have said they have been victims of some form of violence and almost half said they were violently attacked in their most recent relationship.
Women in Mexico earn 34% less than men for the same work, and 36% of women have unpaid home-based work as their main job.
President Andres Lopez Obrador’s (AMLO) response to the calls for action was mixed. He supported striking women who work for the federal government, but also suggested the protests were aimed at destabilising his government.
In Puebla, as in most parts of the country, relatives of victims of femicide led the march. Women on megaphones called out their names and the march responded with chants of “Justice!”
Since 2013, when the registry of femicides began in Puebla, only 20 of 434 femicides in the small state have resulted in convictions.
“Today is a day of protest at all the violence we face here in Mexico, but the violence is structural, so I think it is important to protest every day,” Isabel Maldonado told Green Left.
Organisers in Puebla, a city of 1.5 million people, estimated that 40,000 participated in the march.
In Mexico City, the government estimated 80,000 people participated, however organisers and observers put the figure at upwards of 140,000. All of Mexico’s major cities had huge turnouts, with 25,000 in Guadalajara and 15,000 in Monterrey.
Ana Maria Smith, a university lecturer who attended the Mexico City march, told Green Left: “These marches were historic, not just because there were hundreds and thousands of us, but because we stopped being indifferent to the profound pain of people closest to the victims.”
“We put ourselves in their shoes and felt their pain and made it all of society’s. This process has helped us understand how damaging the patriarchal and capitalist systems are.”
The March 9 strike was originally called by the Veracruz feminist collective, Brujas del Mar (Witches of the Sea) with the goal of simulating the disappearance of women and their social invisibility as well as demonstrating the huge role women play in society.
The strike was successful. The women’s carriages of Mexico City’s trains and metro buses (designated as such to prevent sexual harassment — common on crowded transport) were empty. Other public spaces were also eerily absent of women — only men were present in stations, universities and shopping areas.
Most schools were left without teachers, as most teachers are women and, likewise, metro stations were left without ticket vendors.
Some banks and universities joined the strikes and most street stalls were absent or staffed by men.
Some 90% of the 18,500 women who work for one of Mexico’s biggest banks, BBVA, went on strike. People shared photos of their offices — empty of women, stating “it’s clear that without them, things wouldn’t work.”
“I’m still in shock, I never imagined that one day I would see something like this, a city without women,” Miguel Lozano, a human resources director in a bank told Animal Politico. He said it was a day of reflection for men about the types of violence women face.
Women Zapatistas issued a statement in support of the strike, saying women “should know they aren’t alone”, and participated in it by not turning up in their communities and by lighting thousands of candles.
AMLO responded to the actions on March 10 saying his government’s strategy would not change. AMLO said he would continue dealing with the “causes of the violence” and emphasising employment and youth programs.
[Tamara Pearson is a long-time journalist based in Latin America and author of The Butterfly Prison. Her writings can be found at her blog.]