Digital activism, paintings, and a national strike—how Mexican women protest gender-based violence

Photograph by Santiago Arau, used with permission. Taken on March 8, 2020, during the International Women's Day march in Mexico City. The text reads: “We are the voices of those who are no longer here.”

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of how women fight gender violence in Latin America.

In Mexico, at least ten women are murdered every day. More than 27 percent of women have been victims of sexual violence or harassment in public spaces. Violence against women is on the rise and goes mostly unpunished.

Faced with this situation, Mexican women decided to go on strike: On March 9, they made themselves absent from the public space, their jobs, schools, businesses, social networks and the daily activities they carry out and which, although essential and productive, tend to be invisible and unpaid, as is the care and domestic work. 

The mobilization aimed to demonstrate the economic and social significance of women and, by simulating their absence, foster reflection on the women who go missing in Mexico.

The strike was called through social media by the feminist collective Brujas del Mar (“Witches of the Sea”)—from the coastal state of Veracruz, where the largest number of femicides in Mexico was registered during 2019—under the hashtag # UnDíaSinNosotras (#ADayWithoutUs).

[The text of the flyer reads: “On the ninth, no woman moves. #ADayWithoutUs. National Strike. Not a woman on the street. Not a woman at work. Not a girl at school. Not a girl at university. Not a woman shopping. March 9, 2020″]

If we stop, the world stops. Let's join together in this symbolic protest, let's stop our activities for a single day so that they realize that they are forgetting about 52 per cent of the population.

In the words of the Sorora collective for the Animal MX digital media, the strike aimed:

hacer visible la violencia estructural que vivimos las niñas y mujeres en el país. Para enfatizar el impacto de nuestra ‘ausencia’ en un sistema patriarcal-capitalista que cosifica y comercializa nuestros cuerpos y que se sostiene por el trabajo de cuidados no pagados y la precarización laboral de las mujeres.

To make visible the structural violence that girls and women experience in the country; to emphasize the impact of our “absence”  on a patriarchal-capitalist system that objectifies and markets our bodies and that is sustained by unpaid care work and the instability of employment for women.

The indigenous women of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) joined the call and, on March 1, released a statement explaining the significance of this type of feminist mobilization: “What if we organize more and better? Because sometimes, pain and rage do not follow despair or resignation. It may be that organizing follows.”


Zapatista women join the National Strike on March 9.

Commanders and Coordinators of Zapatista Women of the EZLN

Other symbolic initiatives

Feminist mobilizations gained renewed vitality after two terrifying cases of femicides occurred a couple of days apart in February: Ingrid Escamilla, a 25-year-old woman brutally murdered by her partner, and whose highly graphic photos of her assaulted body were leaked to the tabloids; and Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett, a 7-year-old girl who was kidnapped outside her elementary school, and whose body, showing signs of sexual abuse and torture, was found wrapped in a plastic bag on a public road.

After the media exposure of Ingrid Escamilla's violated body, an initiative emerged on Twitter that sought to bring back dignity to her life:

Amigas, una vez vi un caso de un feminicidio a una chica de EEUU en el que filtraron las imágenes de su cuerpo y sus familiares y amigos compartían fotos de cosas bonitas para que cuando buscaran su nombre no aparecieran las desafortunadas fotos. Así que aquí les va un spam.

— Cit (@citcitcitcit_) February 12, 2020

Friends, I've once heard about a case of a femicide of a girl in the US when, after the images of her body were leaked to the press, her family and friends shared photos of beautiful things so that when people searched her name online, the unfortunate photos did not appear, as they were marked as spam.

As a result of this initiative, hundreds of Twitter users took on the task of sharing beautiful photos with the hashtag #IngridEscamilla and, in this way, preventing associated searches from leading to images of her brutally violated body.

As Signa Lab, a university project specializing in network analysis stated:

Ingrid fue brutalmente asesinada. Entre el coraje y dolor, las redes se convirtieron en espacios de propagación del horror. La inteligencia y los afectos colectivos irrumpieron para apagar el horror y exigir justicia.

Ingrid was brutally murdered. Between courage and pain, the social networks became spaces for the spread of horror. Intelligence and collective affections broke in to stop the horror and demand justice.

I'm crying because of the beautiful idea of @citcitcitcit_

Other actions have included dyeing in red iconic statues, such as the Diana Cazadora (Diana the Huntress Fountain) statue in Mexico City, and La Minerva statue in Guadalajara city from the state of Jalisco:

Diana was painted red. The femicides have taken thousands of women from us, but their memory lives on.

We won't stop until they stop killing us. We will not stop until they stop raping us.

We will not stop until we are FREE.

This Saturday, La Minerva fountain in the roundabout was painted red and had a banner with the words “México Feminicida” (‘Mexico Femicide’), in front of the Vallarta Avenue.

Also, before the start of the massive march for International Women's Day in Mexico City, a group of women activists painted the names of some of the murdered women in the central square of the capital, the place where the manifestations usually end:

Today #8M, we name all those whom we miss, those who cannot march with us today, those who were taken from us by the patriarchal violence. They all have a name, a face, a story.
Today, their names are the cry for justice.

These are just some examples of how, when faced with adversity, women in Mexico have decided to set up networks, join forces, vindicate their rage and organize in order to confront gender violence.

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