07/02/20 (written M MacGregor)- A day without any women in Mexico was the idea of feminist leaders on #UnDíaSinNosotras (#ADayWithoutUs), in which they showed their power through their absence in society. This strike took place after International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2020. During International Women’s Day, over 80,000 women took to the streets of Mexico City to call for the end of gender-based violence. They marched from the Revolution Monument to Constitution Plaza, carrying signs that said “We aren’t numbers, we’re lives”, and “living with fear is not living”. According to Remezcla, dozens of feminist organizations such as the Autonomous and Independent Feminist Assembly organized and informed women and allies of the march, which took months to plan.
The very next day, women stayed at home in a 24-hour strike carried out in the 20 largest cities in Mexico, with the capital being the epicenter of the movement. These strikes were in response to the staggering number of femicides that occur each year. According to Telemundo, this strike was estimated by the Mexican Confederation of Employers (Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana) to have had an economic impact of more than 6,000 million pesos ($290 million USD) on the country, given that in Mexico City alone women represent 44% of the working class population. Mexican women from all walks of life were visibly absent from workplaces and cities, and many businesses gave them their blessing to do so. According to the New York Times, Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City, specifically instructed all department leaders in the city government not to penalize any employee who missed work on the day of the strike. The march and strike made an economic impact on the country, but violence against women continued to happen despite these important events. According to El Sol de Mexico, 11 women were victims of femicide during the events on March 8th and 9th.
In an interview with AA Noticias, prominent activist Sofia Sánchez Calderón described the movement as both a “political and economic strike” and a “call to action to the Mexican people to denounce the misogynist violence in the country that is in all spaces: private, intimate, and public”. As mentioned by Teagan McGinnis in her recent article on the Justice in Mexico News Monitor, Exploring the Legal Context of Femicide in Mexico, this protest was in response to the failure of the Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to address the problem of domestic violence and adequately protect women’s lives. It is also a part of the larger transnational #NiUnaMenos movement. According to The Globe Post, the current president has angered many women and activists by claiming that their protests and strikes are an attack on his regime. He blames past neo-liberal administrations for the femicide crisis although they have been steadily increasing during his regime, with Milenio reporting that 320 women were murdered in January 2020 alone.
The #NiUnaMenos Movement
Comprehending the origins of the #NiUnaMenos feminist movement is essential to understand the current climate regarding women’s rights in Mexico. According to The Globe Post, the movement’s slogan #NiUnaMenos, which means “Not One Less” in English, was adapted from the words of activist and poet Susana Chávez. After an outbreak of violent femicides in Ciudad Juarez in 1995, Chávez called for “ni una muerte más!” (not one more death), before she herself was murdered in 2011. After a string of violent femicides in Argentina in 2015 in which women were burned alive, hacked to pieces with machetes, even a pregnant woman was killed by her boyfriend, public protests erupted in the country under the new slogan of #NiUnaMenos. According to the #NiUnaMenos website, in particular, the whole country was shocked by the death of a 16 year-old student. In response, tens of thousands of protesters converged in Plaza de Mayo under the rain, waving portraits of women murdered echoing the slogan “we want to stay alive”. Since then, according to The Guardian, the #NiUnaMenos hashtag went viral and mobilized the masses against gender-based violence. It has grown rapidly into a transnational movement, in which millions of women and their allies have participated in more than 50 countries around the world.
According to the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), #NiUnaMenos has not been without controversy and contestation in the region. The protests have received backlash on social media, where there have been “ferocious debates between those who want to protect male privilege and those who want to protest it”. Additionally, the backlash has affected women with more than just words. According to NACLA, In March 2018, Afro-Brazilian city counselor and lesbian activist Marielle Franco was shot on her way home from consulting with women’s organizations. Her death, along with those of women human rights activists in the Amazon and Mexico, demonstrate a violent cultural reaction to women’s attempt to participate in public life and challenge the status quo.
However, Marta Dillon, a founder of the #NiUnaMenos movement, told The Guardian that she has seen important progress in these past five years, stating that “blaming the victim in these cases is no longer possible”. Dillon explains that although AMLO has been criticized for his inaction towards gender-based violence, he appointed the first cabinet with gender parity in Latin America. Mexico in particular has seen a wave of assertive protests by women’s groups, who credit #NiUnaMenos with the amplification of their voices. However, many Mexican activists still feel like they are not being heard. “As a first step, we want authorities to recognise there is a problem and that violence against women is increasing,” says Arussi Unda, who belongs to a Veracruz-based organization called Brujas del Mar. Dillion agrees there is still a lot of work to do. She told The Guardian, “Femicides are still happening because it’s a form of disciplining,” she says, “in general, the killer acts when a woman says: ‘enough is enough’.”