MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s women are going on strike.
In what could be the boldest women’s rights action since the #MeToo campaign, many of Mexico’s 21 million registered female workers are expected to stay home from work or school on Monday to protest gender violence.
After several recent grisly killings, feminists proposed the action to draw attention to Mexico’s stunning levels of attacks on women, and the idea quickly went viral. Federal and local government offices and dozens of universities are granting leave to female employees and students, and some of Mexico’s biggest companies are also backing the action. Walmart has said its 108,000 female employees in Mexico are free to join the one-day strike. Other corporate supporters include Ford, the Grupo Salinas banking and media conglomerate, and Bimbo, the baked-goods giant.
The economic losses in the capital alone could hit $300 million, according to the Mexico City branch of Coparmex, an influential employers’ association.
“This is a way for us to say to the world that Mexican women have value, no matter our age, our place or how we look,” said Minerva Ovando Vilchis, 53, a manager of the civil registry office in Santa Maria del Monte, a suburb of Mexico City. “The authorities in charge of public security are not doing much to defend us.”
The strike is the latest step in a growing backlash in the hemisphere against abuse of women. Mexicans have joined the #MeToo campaign and embraced the Chilean protest dance “A Rapist in Your Way,” which has been performed by crowds of ordinary women in public plazas throughout Latin America.
“There’s a momentum, built on what movements have done in other parts of the world,” said Edna Jaime, director of the policy think tank México Evalúa. “And here, we have reached a worrying level of violence. You can’t hide it anymore.”
Violence of all kinds has escalated in recent years in Mexico. But for women, there is a chilling twist: 25 percent of Mexico’s female homicide victims are killed in the home, compared with 10 percent of male victims.
“These data point to a terrible fact: The home is not a safe place for an enormous proportion of women,” the security analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in the daily newspaper El Universal.
There were about 1,000 femicides – girls and women killed because of their gender – in Mexico last year, up 10 percent from the previous year. Overall, an average of 10 women were killed per day in 2019.
About two-thirds of women 15 and older in Mexico have reported experiencing some kind of violence. Many complain the justice system remains unresponsive.
Xochiquetzalli Calles, 27, a single mother in Mexico City, said she tried, and failed, to get authorities to approve a restraining order against her former partner. She sees Monday’s strike as a dramatic new way to make a point. Although she doesn’t work outside the home, she is heeding the call of organizers to stay off the streets and not buy anything.
“I’m going to disappear,” she said. “That’s how I’m going to make people conscious of what’s happening to women.”
While femicide has been a problem in Mexico for years, public outrage has surged in recent weeks following two brutal killings. One victim was a 25-year-old woman who was slain and partially skinned, allegedly by her husband. The other was a 7-year-old girl whose naked corpse was found in a plastic bag.
The murders have become a significant political challenge for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose responses have been widely seen as insensitive. The center-left leader has suggested that past free-market policies have contributed to femicide and claimed that his political opponents are behind Monday’s strike. “Of course the right wing is involved,” he told reporters.
A poll released Wednesday by El Financiero newspaper found that 82 percent of respondents disapproved of López Obrador’s handling of femicide and violence against women. That response coincides with a sudden slip in his approval ratings, from 71 percent in January to 63 percent in February, according to the survey.
The strike “is not an attack on the current government or president,” said Arussi Unda, the spokeswoman for Brujas del Mar – the Sea Witches – a feminist organization in the southern state of Veracruz that was the first to promote the strike. “It’s against a system.”
Mexican feminists traditionally demonstrate on March 8, International Women’s Day, and this year, huge protests are planned around the country on Sunday.
Unda said the idea to follow up with a strike on Monday came from Vanessa Bauche, a Mexican actress and activist in feminist causes. Bauche said she was inspired by the 2004 film “A Day Without a Mexican,” which envisioned what would happen if all the Mexicans in California vanished.
If Mexican women disappeared from public life for a day, Bauche told The Washington Post, “maybe we’d understand what 10 families experience daily in this country, losing their women.”
The idea exploded online, captured in such hashtags as #undiasinmujeres (a day without women) and #El9NadieSeMueve (on the 9th, no one moves).
“We want to have an impact on the political parties and the business owners where it hurts: their earnings,” said Lucy Gonzalez, a 30-year-old hospital administrator in Mexico City.
Mexican women have made impressive strides in recent years. About half of federal lawmakers are female; López Obrador’s 16-member Cabinet includes seven women. But machismo is still a potent force in many workplaces and homes.
“The laws change and the number of women in power increases, but the culture pushes back,” Isabel Fulda, a political scientist at the Center for Economic Investigation and Instruction, wrote in the magazine Nexos.
Although the strike has won broad acceptance, many women simply cannot afford to give up a day’s pay.
Lourdes Hernández Hernández, 29, who works as a caregiver for an 8-year-old in Mexico City, said none of the domestic workers she knows have been told they can join the strike.
“I think it’ll have a big impact, because people will see the indignation and the rage that violence against women causes,” Hernández Hernández said. Nonetheless, she said, “there are people who say they are feminists but do not respect the rights of the women who work in their homes.”
It is unclear what long-term results the strike might have. Officials have declared “gender alerts” in numerous Mexican states and municipalities, triggering emergency actions to protect women. But they have done little to limit the violence. Few homicides are solved by Mexico’s weak justice system.
“We don’t want this to be just one of those things that goes viral and becomes a meme,” said Unda. “We’re hoping for the beginning of something that changes the history of this country.”
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The Washington Post’s Gabriela Martínez contributed to this report.