This year in Mexico, International Women’s Day will be marked not by celebration but by mourning and a national protest against the recent spike in femicides.
So why has a day that is typically about celebration been deemed, by national consensus, a day of protest? There is a message to convey to the government. In the last few years the number of femicides (the killing of women or girls on account of their gender) across Mexico has dramatically increased. Official statistics state that last year, more than 1000 women were violently killed. However, in reality, femicide rates are far higher because the law only classifies murder as femicide if the victim displays signs of sexual violence or evidence of previous harassment or abuse, which is not always the case. In many cases a femicide is classified as a homicide.
Some blame our fractured and failing institutions for not putting the culprits in prison. Others say women put themselves in vulnerable positions by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. From my experience as a woman growing up in Mexico City, there has always been a sense of fear and vulnerability when walking alone, especially at night, but also in daytime in empty places.
This Monday a national protest will occur: a 24 hour strike by the country’s female population. The call to action is for all Mexican women to make themselves absent from the streets, their workplaces or from their usual domestic tasks; to make a statement to society of what life would be like if all of us disappeared for one day. It will be a day of passive, peaceful protest, that leaves a clear and loud message to society, to raise awareness of what we bring to it. It will also send a stark message to government who have not given the issue the attention it deserves.
We had high hopes for our new government, but despite repeated recommendations by Mexican civil society groups and international organizations, it has failed to take action and reduce these preventable murders of women. With no political will or investment in tackling the issue, it has fallen to citizens like María Salguero, to keep track of femicides. A geophysicist by training, she has created an online map that she adds to everyday after receiving alerts from other citizens about new registered femicides. She registered the deaths of 3,385 women who were violently killed in 2019.
If a femicide is not persecuted and condemned, it makes it almost impossible to stand against other crimes against women. The tolerance of these atrocious crimes normalises violence in society and makes us more tolerant of other forms of violence against women, such as domestic violence and abuse.
The sense of insecurity of walking around in your daily life, knowing that you could be murdered is a very real possibility that instantly reduces our freedom. If my very self is in danger, why bother to develop myself and study, work or have a family? This sense of vulnerability affects all women in the long run. It limits the willingness to put ourselves out there and contribute to society – to access labour markets, attend recreational activities and build families. It’s high time the government recognised the unique role of femininity in society and our rights to live with freedom in our own country.