Thousands of women in Mexico strike against gender violence

MEXICO CITY -- Untold thousands of women across Mexico stayed home from work and school Monday as part of a strike billed as "A Day Without Women," a day after an unprecedented number of them filled the streets to protest rampant and rising gender violence on International Women's Day.

Central streets in the capital were eerily empty of women and girls throughout the day. Mostly men could be seen walking to offices, getting off buses or lining up to buy coffee. At least some metro ticket stations were closed, and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's morning press conference was dotted with empty seats as female journalists joined the strike as well.

The idea was 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. Some also swore off social media until Tuesday.

It is about "showing, socially ... how valuable we women are, our contribution, and what would happen if one day we were not around. In all aspects: as homemakers, as workers, as consumers," said Lluvia Flores Gómez, 40, who was sipping coffee and reading a book on the couch at home in the historic downtown instead of going to work.

Flores shuttered her bakery in observation of the strike, though she said her employees - all women - would be paid for the day. She said the business would take an economic hit, but it was important to call attention to all the ways women are under attack in Mexico - not only murder, disappearance and rape, but also home and workplace discrimination and lack of equal opportunity.

"The point is for there to really be a loss, that is, for this day to happen without us. ... It had to be something like this, radical and cutting, so that the loss for everyone would be seen," she said, "or rather the absence, the lack of our presence."

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 thousands took to the streets again Monday. In Santiago, Chile, women walked to the seat of the country's presidency with some hurling plastic bottles and sticks at police guarding it.

In Argentina, the South American country from where the "Not One Less" movement emerged, tens of thousands of women on Monday marched to Congress to demand legalized abortion and an end to femicides.

"We need real rights, a budget, that take into account the situation of women in this country, which is really terrible," said 20-year-old activist Belén Gutiérrez.

In Mexico, some women could be seen Monday jogging or working at taco stands, coffee shops or other jobs in Mexico City. At a central intersection, a female transit officer waved cars through. But overall, the relative absence of women in public spaces was striking.

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.

Asked about his government's strategy for combatting violence against women and impunity for such crimes, López Obrador said Monday that his administration is working on the issue every day. Echoing his policy for addressing broader violence, the president stressed the importance of tackling social ills such as poverty and inequality.

"I maintain that the main thing is to guarantee the well-being of the people," López Obrador said.

Tougher criminal penalties and more aggressive prosecutions can help, he added, but "the main thing is that we live in a better society in all senses."

He also repeated previous assertions that some of the anger directed at his administration over the violence against women "is conservatism disguised as feminism."

At the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City, students Daniela Blanco and Laura Hernández said they were unable to miss an important class Monday, but were wearing purple in solidarity.

Hernández said she didn't think the strike would do anything to increase authorities' effectiveness in combating violence against women, but saw it as important for increasing individual awareness.

"I think it is necessary to raise consciousness of what would happen if we were not here," she said. "So I think the strike is super necessary, and I am in favor."

Blanco said she disagreed with the strike, which some said has sparked friction within families and on social media.

"For me, everything is egalitarian, so there are also men who die every day," Blanco said. "And I understand that they want to do something with their strike, but I feel they do not achieve anything by skipping daily activities."

A Facebook group called "A Day Without Women" has more than 320,000 Mexican members who have been debating and informing each other about the possible consequences of not going to the office, hospital or school for one day.

Officials estimated that 80,000 women marched Sunday in Mexico City, many wearing lavender. Some remarked that it seemed symbolically meaningful that the color matched the jacarandas blooming overhead for springtime. There were smaller demonstrations elsewhere in the country.

Monday's strike was not as noticeable in other parts of Mexico. Olga Marysol Gomez Garcia worked for years in the assembly plants of the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo. Now a homemaker, she said on Monday teachers were the only women she knew not going to work.

"Here in Nuevo Laredo, there wasn't a strike because they told them that if they missed work they would dock them for that day and since they pay them so little only the ... teachers missed, but the rest no," she said.
Copyright © 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.