Day Without Women: Mexicans to Strike Over Gender Violence

Mar 9, 2020
8:46 AM

Women march during International Women’s Day in Mexico City, Sunday, March 8, 2020. Protests against gender violence in Mexico have intensified in recent years amid an increase in killings of women and girls. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Thousands of women across Mexico planned to stay home from work or school on Monday for “A Day Without Women,” hours after an unprecedented number of them filled the streets to protest rampant gender violence on International Women’s Day.

The back-to-back protests mark an intensification of the struggle by Mexican women against violence and impunity in one of the most dangerous countries in the world for females. Women in Argentina and Chile have staged strikes in previous years and will do so again Monday.

“What we want to provoke is that they see that if we’re not there, the city won’t circulate. That there are many of us. What are they going to do without us if they are killing us?” said Viviana Méndez, a lawyer and mother who planned to take part in the strike.

The idea is to become invisible for a day so that coworkers, bosses, boyfriends, husbands and in some cases children reflect on the absence of each participating woman.

Government data say 3,825 women met violent deaths last year, 7% more than in 2018. That works out to about 10 women slain each day in Mexico. Thousands more have gone missing without a trace in recent years. Authorities seem incapable of preventing or properly investigating the crimes, very few of which result in convictions.

“In Mexico it’s like we’re in a state of war; we’re in a humanitarian crisis because of the quantity of women that have disappeared or been killed,” said María de la Luz Estrada, coordinator of the National Citizen’s Observatory of Femicide.

A Facebook group called “A Day Without Women” has more than 320,000 Mexican members who debate and inform each other about the possible consequences of not going to the office, hospital or school for one day.

If the turnout for Sunday’s protest in Mexico City is any indication, the streets may be less full on March 9. Officials estimated that 80,000 women marched Sunday in Mexico City, with smaller protests in major metropolitan areas throughout the country.

The call to protest grew in February after two murders rocked Mexico City: that of a young woman horribly disfigured, apparently by a boyfriend, and that of a 7-year-old girl abducted from her school.

In Mexico, major banks, media companies and law firms have joined the call to action. The Coparmex business confederation encouraged its more than 36,000 member companies across the country to take part — despite calculating losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the strike.

Natalia Olalde, an 18-year-old university student, said she planned to observe the strike.

“That means no going out, not even for a coffee,” she said.

Some private schools have canceled bus services that depend on female nannies to walk children to their front doors, or some enlisted fathers of schoolchildren to give classes in the absence of female teachers.

It appears public hospitals and schools that heavily rely on female personnel will open, perhaps with fewer employees.

The work strike comes less than a day after tens of thousands of women wearing purple poured into the streets of Mexico City to protest gender violence. Some protesters spray painted messages like “Mexico kills women” onto monuments, smashed windows and set fires. Most marched peacefully.

Murders of women in Mexico are often accompanied by sexual violence and stunning brutality. Some women are burned. Some are mutilated.

Protesters tinted red the water of the fountain to the Roman goddess Diana in Mexico City —to symbolize the blood of victims— and also the water of a fountain to the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, in Guadalajara.

A woman holds up a smoke candle at the door of the National Palace during an International Women’s Day march in Mexico City’s main square, the Zócalo, Sunday, March 8, 2020. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Activists then carpeted Mexico City’s central Zócalo square with victims’ names in white block letters. The names came from public records of deaths that appear to fall into the category of femicide, meaning those women’s killings showed marks of hatred for the female gender.

Housewives, students and mothers took to the streets of Mexico City wearing purple shirts, bandannas and hats. Purple is a color often used to represent gender equality.

They carried signs saying, “I’m marching today so that I don’t die tomorrow.”

Estrada led a contingent of mothers whose daughters have been killed. Over time, the mothers have become activists who share their daughters’ stories. Several say officials initially ruled their daughters’ deaths suicides, demonstrating little desire to investigate.

“Receiving the news that your daughter has been found without life is like being smashed against the wall,” recounted Patricia Becerril, whose daughter Zyanya Estefanía was found dead in 2018 while studying to be a doctor in the central state of Puebla.

Mexican women will not be alone with their strike.

Organizers expect a huge turnout for a march in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, celebrating International Women’s Day. In neighboring Chile, activists have called for a national feminist strike.