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During the month of January 2020, ten women were killed every day in Mexico, according to government data. These numbers, however, seem to be insufficiently convincing for Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his government, who have not only minimized the violence women face but have repeatedly communicated messages that do not seem supportive of women.
On February 10, 2020, during AMLO's daily press conference, journalists questioned Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero about his proposal to classify femicide as aggravated homicide. Such a move, according to activists, would minimize the problem of femicide. President López Obrador then said:
I don't want the topic to only be about femicide. Yes it's important, but I can already see how this will be the highlight of the news.
The topic of femicide would overshadow the raffling off of the presidential plane, he continued, which he had promised to do during his campaign to demonstrate his commitment to fighting against corruption. The now-infamous plane raffle has taken center stage at several press conferences.
Despite the pertinent questions journalists pose about the way the government is dealing with femicides—as well as with security in general, the economy and sustainability—the president keeps on talking about the raffle, which has led some analysts to label the raffle a piece of political theater.
Yet, women continue to be killed in Mexico. Since López Obrador took power in December 2018, more than 1,000 women have been officially recognized as victims of femicide. The toll of murdered women whose deaths have not been categorized as femicide is likely to be much higher.
In 2020, some of Mexico's femicides have become emblematic around the globe. On February 9, Ingrid Escamilla, a 25-year-old woman was allegedly killed by her partner, who attempted to flush her organs down the toilet. The leaked images of her mutilated body were displayed on the front page of a prominent national newspaper, La Prensa. A few days later, the body of Fátima Cecilia, a 7-year-old girl, was found dead in a trash can. She had been sexually abused before being killed.
On February 17, President Obrador blamed neoliberalism's effects on society for Fatima's fate, and on February 20 he reinforced that what Mexico needs is a “moral constitution“. In this latter press conference, he said:
Feminists oppose the moralization that we propose, I respect your point of view but I do not share it, I believe that we must moralize the country, that we must purify public life, we must strengthen moral, cultural, and spiritual values. (…) It's not because you came to protest that I will renounce my beliefs.
After the cases of Ingrid, Fátima, and others were made public, hundreds of women took to the streets to protest against the prevalence of femicide. Some of the demonstrators tagged walls with messages of support for the victims and demands from the government. They also splashed red paint on the doors of the National Palace, the seat of the executive power in Mexico, to symbolize the blood of the victims.
In a press conference on February 17, the president responded, saying:
I ask feminists, with all due respect, please don't paint doors and walls, because we are working so there aren't femicides.
This response generated even more anger not only from feminists, but the population in general. Since the government has not yet officially communicated what actions it will take to guarantee security for women, several feminist groups called for a strike of women's labor on March 9, 2020.
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Several companies and organizations expressed solidarity with the women who were planning to strike and with women employees who could therefore take time off from work without facing consequences.
The president's response, however, was characteristically tone-deaf: it was reported that the raffling off of the presidential plane would take place on March 9, the same day as the women's labor strike.
On March 4, during another press conference, López Obrador said that “he did not realize” and that it was “not on his mind” that the day he chose coincided with the strike, and proceeded to changed the date of the raffle. But in the same conference, he made another declaration that raised the feminists’ ire: that men could also join the strike.
Yet it's not only him. Other political figures, including some women, have made statements that not only highlight their lack of support for women, but also exemplify the disregard with which these issues are treated in Mexico.
For example, Eréndira Sandoval, the secretary of Public Services, tweeted that “fakeminists” were furious about the government's “concrete anti-corruption results.” She also tweeted that men should strike on March 9 instead of women, because women “would be tempted to wash dishes” if left at home.
Yeidckol Polevnsky, the secretary general of Morena, the president's political party, declared that “feminists should be more creative in their way of protesting” and “use art” instead of showing anger.
These sarcastic statements — especially coming from women — show how unprepared AMLO's team is in terms of gender perspective. Although both the Morena party and the president have declared themselves feminists and have constantly asserted that they support women, the unfeminist messages of López Obredor and his team are not only alarming but deeply worrying, considering that the party claims to represent the “hope of Mexico”.
When is the president going to finally answer women's demands on behalf of the victims of femicide and other minorities?
To get answers, we'll probably have to wait until the presidential plane is finally raffled off.