A sea of purple and black swayed in unison with the Jacaranda trees lining Mexico City’s streets yesterday as over 80,000 women descended upon the capital to protest the country’s femicide epidemic. And across the nation, women of all ages and backgrounds joined local marches to protest an increasing outrage at the gender-based violence epidemic and the lack of an adequate response on behalf of the government.
Yesterday, women (and some men) came out in the hundreds of thousands to call out the names of missing girls and women, to condemn complacency by society and the government, and to show solidarity and sisterhood with victims and their families. As I walked shoulder-to-shoulder with the mothers of missing, kidnapped and murdered girls, I saw the unmistakable look of simmering fury in their eyes. Arms trembled and eyes held back tears as they marched holding up photos of mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces and schoolmates in the hopes that someone might see, someone might know, someone might care.
The epidemic of violence against women isn’t recent and neither is such activism in Mexico. Since the 1990s when women in the factory town of Ciudad Juarez, in the northern state of Chihuahua, started being systematically raped, murdered and often tortured with total impunity, activists and NGOs began to organize to raise awareness and push authorities to do something about the violence.
But federal and local governments haven’t done nearly enough and the situation has reached a boiling point. Amnesty International recently released its annual report on the Americas which showed that 2019 was the deadliest year in Mexico since the government began keeping track of murders back in 1997. They recorded 35,558 intentional homicides. They also noted that Mexico now appears in the ten least safe countries for women in the world.
According to the woman independently investigating and chronicling femicides in Mexico, Frida Guerrera, there were over 3,000 murders of women in the country last year but only 726 were investigated as “femicides” – the gender-based murder of a woman by a man.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador or AMLO, insists that when he stepped into office in 2018 he faced decades of human rights abuses, institutional corruption, impunity and insecurity that weren’t his fault. And he’s right about that. But in spite of supporters who point to the historic number of women in his administration and the challenges he faced when he took office, his personal response to the femicide emergency has been a total failure.
The presence of women in AMLO’s government seems to have done little to sway him in terms of making gender-based violence a national priority, even if at least half of Mexican society thinks it should be. When recently asked at a press conference about the increasing concern about femicides, López Obrador scolded a journalist for taking the attention away from his raffle of the presidential plane, which he insisted on starting the same day as the protests.
And while in Mexico City there was some rioting and violence reported during yesterday’s demonstrations, the protest I witnessed in the port city of Veracruz was a mostly solemn affair. There were even moments of joy as the march came to an end. We had accomplished something; made our voices heard. Yesterday women sent a message to the country and the government that they will no longer tolerate indifference, complacency and impunity – that the torture, rape, disappearance and murder of daughters, sisters, mothers and friends cannot continue unpunished.
The moving words demonstrators chanted provided a powerful addition to the Chilean women’s rights anthem from 2019, “A Rapist in your Path”:
“And now that we’re together, and now that they see us. Down with the patriarchy, it’s going to fall, it’s going to fall. Up with feminism, it will triumph, it will triumph. Alert, alert, alert 1234, to the person that walks the feminist fight in Latin America. Let them tremble, let the machistas tremble, Latin America will be feminist. Sir, Madam, don’t be indifferent. They’re killing women right in front of our eyes. At night, during the day, naked or dressed, in the bed or in the street – respect our lives. Memory, memory, collective memory. Thousands of women are still owed justice.”
According to Guerrera’s blog, where she tracks each victim’s story, as of March 6 of this year there were 367 femicides in Mexico. Approximately nine women and girls are murdered each day in the country.
In a second day of protests today, women across the country are disappearing from schools, businesses, social media and all commercial activity in a “Day Without Women” to protest gender-based violence and impunity. But to the tragic misfortune of the millions of girls and women in the country, without the federal government’s leadership and support, civil society organizations and activists will be left mostly on their own to fight the femicide epidemic that is tearing Mexican society apart, one family at a time.