By Merel Haenen
On Thursday, Nov. 25, at the roundabout on Mexico City’s main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma, the perched, golden-winged Angel of Independence oversaw a crowd of demonstrators convening for the start of the women’s march. The manifestation was held on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, a day that inaugurates sixteen consecutive days of activism. Barricades separate the marcher’s graffitied fury from national monuments, and government buildings are monitored by the police force’s meters-long human shields. Today, the city’s monuments and government buildings are protected. Every other day, Mexico’s women are not. The country’s veritable second pandemic, that of gender-based violence, counts an average of 10.5 deaths on a daily basis. From January to October of this year, a total of 842 femicides have been registered in Mexico. The demonstration is a cathartic site for women to amplify their voice on behalf of those who no longer have one. Thousands of women, recalling their silenced loved ones, shout “ni una, ni diez, pinche gobierno, cuentanos bien (not one, not ten, the government counts incorrect)”.
Violence is a lived reality for every woman, but the magnitude of women’s repression is mainly contingent on social status and race. The same rights and health care services do not guarantee an equal access to them. Historically vulnerable or marginalized groups, such as women and girls from ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, refugees, or migrants, suffer to a greater extent. Brochures announcing the women’s march were diffused through social media, with the hashtag #25N. As stated in the distributed information, the women’s march was called to raise awareness for the range of injustices that directly stem from inequality, albeit affect women unequally. Abortion rights, sexist violence, job insecurity, the criminalization of the women’s movement, feminicide and trans feminicide, and institutional violence were all placed on the agenda.
Nevertheless, the protest’s over-arching slogan is more unifying than divisional: ni una más, ni una menos (not one woman more, not one woman less). In chorus, women of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and social classes raise outcry over their shared precarious existence. The grammatically gendered mantra, which only works in direct reference to women, seems to reflect both the turn-out of the event and the sentiments that saturate it. Many express a hint of disapproval when it comes to men attending the march, indicating that their impunity from the throes of Mexico’s machisto society makes them unlikely allies to their cause. There are scarce sightings of men, most of them watch from the sidelines. Even the police unit that flanks the marching women consists of an all-female team. With a placid face, a young man holds up a sign that reads “We want to support your struggle”. His presence is met with slurs and ridicules by the crowd. “We don’t want men to try to be the protagonists of our spaces,” explains attendee Vanessa Ivon Silva Marquez, coordinator of gender-based violence interventions for the sexual health organization Mexfam.
During a forum hosted earlier that day by the Mexico City government at the center for intercultural studies Nezahualcóyotl, in the spirit of the kick-off of the international campaign to end violence against women, panel speaker Dr. Luz María Barajas Farías was asked what she deems necessary for Mexico to advance its efforts to tackle violence against women. “We have the tools that we need in place for women to live a life free of violence,” she contends, referring to the Mexican Official Standard established in 2009 which constitutes the necessary criteria for health services to adequately detect, prevent, and educate those afflicted by violence. “We are waiting for the clock to strike midnight, it is now up to the government to execute the needed care long overdue”, Ms Farías points out.
Resentment against the ineptitudes of the Mexican government is evident at the protest, as balaclava-clad women take down road signs, spray paint streetlights and smash bus stations’ windows. A mother, Margarita, and her daughter, Fer, attend the protest on the 25th of November together each year, the day of the daughter’s birthday. For privacy reasons, their full name has not been revealed. While it was her mother’s long-time commitment to the feminist cause that inspired her, Fer frequents the protests to show other women that they are not alone in their struggle. “Every day, when I leave my house early in the morning, I’m afraid,” she discloses. “That anxiety does not only stem from my own, past experiences, when I witness a girl being harassed in the street, I feel her fear, and her wound becomes my wound”. If there is no adequate accountability from public officials, anger and hurt will be embodied by the collective. “Fuimos todas (we all did this),” the women chant to dispense culpability, after a road sign is dragged to the ground.
The recording of the forum referenced in the text can be watched here.
A short version of the piece was first published here.
Merel is currently based at Mexfam in Mexico City.