Trigger Warning: This piece contains material about
violence & sexual assault.
Written by: Mariana Roa
Edited by: Aish Murthy, Nisha Rajoo and Khushi Karnawat
The Ministry of Defense updated its statistics in January and the facts, together with roaring protests in Latin America which started towards the end of 2019, have brought women across the country together to demand greater support for their rights.
It was in March when the country was reeling from an increase in violence against women, including an increase in femicides and the very public cases involving the killings of Ingrid, a 25-year-old woman, and Fátima, who was only 7-year-old. The feminist movement marched under what some declared as their “Feminist Spring”. The timing of the march framed the International Day of Women in a light of protest and rebirth, with outrage coursing through the veins of Mexican women, but also hoping that, at last, something would change. Tens of thousands of women from different parts of the country came together on the 8th of March, fed up with machismo, to demand equality and to stop gender-based violence. The march was led by mothers of the victims and joined by some policewoman. They held a minute of silence for the victims and urged the president to take action, especially after having declared a feminist foreign policy earlier this year.
Yet, that was not the end of the movement. The next day, activists from the feminist group, ‘Las brujas del mar’, called for a historic day-long national strike by women (which included their absence on social media) in a movement that was called #UnDiaSinNosotras (‘A Day Without Us’). ‘Las Brujas del mar’ emerged as a Facebook group in late 2019 with the aim of sharing feminist information among women in Veracruz and at the time, had more than 160,000 followers. The group, together with Mexican actress Vanessa Bouche, started to mobilise their followers at the beginning of February 2019.
A national strike led by women is not a new phenomenon and can be traced back to a protest in Iceland in 1975, where women fought for equality and more representation in the political arena. In the Mexican context, one of the main motives for the strike was to highlight the magnitude of gender-based violence: each day in Mexico, 10 women do not return to their workplaces; 10 women do not return to their homes; and 10 families will suffer the heartbreak of losing their loved one.
The strike was also inspired by the movie “A Day Without a Mexican” which was released in 2004 and is a satire that addresses the hypothetical disappearance of the Mexican population in California.
One of the promotional slogans of the film stated: “How to make the invisible visible? By taking it out.” Let that sink in for a second.
#UnDiaSinNosotras resulted in an economic impact of 30,000 million pesos – 15% more than expected, according to Concanaco-Servytur (an independent Mexican institution) and it is estimated that 70% of the female labour force took part in the strike. It is also estimated that there was an added economic impact of 11,371 million pesos for unpaid domestic and care work. It is important to underline the impact of the latter because in 2018, the economic value of Unpaid Domestic and Care Work constituted 5.5 billion pesos, representing 23.5% of Mexico's GDP. Of this percentage, women's work represented 17.7% of the GDP, or 75% of total unpaid work.
Although men showed up at their workplaces, many establishments were overwhelmed and some had to close early, while others, such as banks and schools, decided to close completely. Images of newsrooms, government offices and schools without women and girls were circulated on social networks. Even President Lopez Obrador's morning conference had rows of empty chairs as most women journalists boycotted it.
Whether or not this was an actual Feminist Spring is definitely a subject of debate. Shortly after the protests, the COVID-19 pandemic occurred and the world, as we know, changed in the blink of an eye. What can be said for sure is that the movement initiated hard conversations which needed to take place. Conversations around the kinds of violence that we, as women, are subject to on a daily basis; conversations with our loved ones about whether or not they have been subjected to any kind of violence, and conversations with ourselves on the kinds of violence that we practice against ourselves and/or against others.
Although Mexican women were called upon to stop their activities, this is not a women-only initiative. The truth is that the machista culture also affects men in Mexico and around the world. Gender stereotypes repress men and women, and those whose masculinity or femininity does not conform to the standards of how a man or a woman should behave are severely criticised.
As 2020, a year which has been harsh on all of us, comes to an end, let’s remember that fire with which we started the year and the revolution that followed.