Tens of thousands of feminists protested across Mexico last week, amid what they say is an epidemic of violence against women.
“We’re sick of suffering all kinds of abuse when we just walk in the street,” said Mari, a protester in the central Mexican city of Puebla, who was joined by hundreds of activists in the city’s center on Sunday April 24, demanding justice for victims of femicide.
When the march reached the state government offices, activists accused local authorities of failing to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.
One masked protester shouted, “The government here in Puebla lets them get away with impunity,” adding, “This isn’t just in Puebla, but all of Mexico.”
Declaring a “violet spring,” protesters called on women across Mexico to take a stand against sexism. One of the largest protests took place in Mexico City, where organizers railed against Mexico’s traditionally machista, or sexist, culture.
“It is evident that we need social re-education — to teach men not to harass, not violate, not hit, not threaten, not enslave, not abuse and not kill women and girls,” organizers said in a statement.
Back in Puebla, Mari said one the biggest problems for women in Mexico on a daily basis is street harassment. “Those catcalls — like, shouts in the street — they happen all the time,” she said.
The catcallers, however, appeared to have stayed at home on the day of the march, which was protected by squads of balaclava-clad women bearing badges that read “feminist security.”
At each intersection, these squads would run ahead of the main rally to form human road blocks, keeping traffic at bay. Behind them, demonstrators chanted, “Hey machista media, we’re here!”
Other protesters in Puebla carried dozens of pink crosses. Each cross bore the name of an alleged femicide victim.
Official statistics from the federal government suggest over 60 percent of Mexican girls and women over the age of 15 have faced some form of abuse, ranging from verbal harassment to sexual violence.
Puebla state is one of the epicenters of Mexico’s femicide crisis. At least 26 women have been murdered across the state since the start of the year. One of the latest victims was 53-year-old Guadalupe Chavarria Moral, who was gunned down by her husband in early April.
Her death came just days after another woman was shot in a rural area of Puebla state. In the same week, the body of a third woman was found dumped on the side of the main highway between Puebla and Mexico City.
Nationwide, more than 44,000 women have been murdered over the last three decades, according to data from the government’s official statistics agency, INEGI, whose records also indicate many of the perpetrators of violence are friends or family members of the victim.
Activists in Puebla say one of the most disturbing trends is spousal murder. According to local feminist organizers, there have been numerous cases in Puebla of husbands murdering their wives when they become pregnant.
INEGI’s latest figures suggest that on average, a woman is murdered in Mexico every 20 minutes. In some regions, rates of femicide are 15 times higher than the international average. Meanwhile, according to a 2009 report from the National Femicide Citizen Observatory, less than 2 percent of suspected perpetrators of femicide in Mexico ever face criminal convictions. In its report, the organization accused the Mexican government of allowing a “context of permissibility” to flourish.
“By action or omission, (the state) fails to fulfill its responsibility to ensure the safety and right to life of women,” the report concluded.
In much of conservative Mexico, the act of speaking out against abuse and advocacy of feminism remains controversial. However, there are signs that the movement is gaining momentum.
The latest protests elicited a response from President Enrique Peña Nieto, who tweeted, “Today we were forced to listen to thousands of voices for women’s rights. My commitment to them is firm and determined.”
On the ground in Puebla, protesters said they wanted more than words from the president, with many arguing that a seismic change is needed in the country’s political culture. They chanted, “For all women, there’s no alternative but revolution.”