8th of March: a day to celebrate women’s achievement, to raise awareness against bias, and to take action for equality. The words we read on the International Women’s Day website, coupled with the #ChooseToChallenge that spread through social media, were somewhat overshadowed by the shocking news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance—a reminder of a second pandemic, but one for which we have no vaccine.
Cases of gendered violence like that of Sarah Everard are deeply disturbing, but in Latin America they have come to be expected on a daily basis. One of the worst affected Latin American countries is Mexico, which has a long history of violence against women. In the 90s and early 00s, Ciudad Juárez, branded “Ciudad de la Muerte” (‘City of Death’) by Cecilia Ballí in her 2003 article in the Texas Monthly, saw nearly 400 young girls and women murdered in particularly gruesome ways. This, together with a lack of action on the part of the Mexican government, sparked concern all around the globe, bringing Mexico’s issue to the forefront.
Concerningly, rates of femicide have continued to rise. According to the Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), 10 women are killed every day in Mexico and the rate of femicide has doubled in the last 5 years. What’s more, it appears that the Coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse. Following the “quédate en casa” (‘stay at home’) order put in place towards the end of March, April saw 21,722 emergency calls about violence against women and 267 acts of femicide were reported, making it the “deadliest month in the last five years” (CNN). Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador claims to be in favour of women’s rights, but his response to the rising figures and the shocking reports at the start of their lockdown would prove otherwise. When questioned about the alarming number of calls, he brushed the issue aside, saying, “Ninety percent of those calls that you’re referring to are fake”, and claimed that the figures on murders had been “manipulated a lot in the media”, causing disgust and fear amongst many. Even the President refuses to admit to the reality of another illness that continues to devastate Mexican society, an illness that affects all women, directly or indirectly.
In the UK, movements such as ‘Reclaim These Streets’ are urging women to exercise their right to peaceful protest, something which Mexican women have become accustomed to. Inspired by the #NiUnaMenos (‘not one woman less’) campaign, which arose in Argentina in 2015, Mexican women have frequently taken to the streets. In 2016, for example, thousands participated in the “violet spring” protests. More recently, International Women’s Day 2020 encouraged even larger protests all across Mexico, with the demonstration in the capital “one of the largest of its kind in Mexico’s history”. In light of previous years, the Mexican government erected temporary fences around the National Palace and other historical monuments in anticipation of IWD 2021. For a government whose president claims to be a man of the people, this fence is somewhat of a contradiction. Although branded a “muro de la paz” (‘wall of peace’) by the president’s communications coordinator, Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, demonstrators saw it as an obstacle to their right to protest, arguing that their government was more concerned with protecting buildings than the lives of women. In an act of defiance, protestors painted onto the wall the names of hundreds of “Víctimas de femincidio” (‘victims of femicide’), turning it into a “muro de la memoria” (‘wall of remembrance’), adorned with flowers, photos, offerings, banners and other memorabilia to honour their missing and murdered female compatriots.
A 14-page report ‘The (r)age of women: Stigma and violence against women protestors’ by Amnesty International was released on March 3rd, details the way in which Mexican authorities have repeatedly employed excessive force and repressed women who have been peacefully protesting against gender-based violence in recent years. It states that protestors have had to suffer “violent sexualised language” whilst exercising their rights, even being threatened with, and in some cases subjected to, acts of sexual violence by those employed to protect them. The Mexican government’s contemptible interpretation of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly was reaffirmed just five days later. Unsurprisingly, IWD demonstrations turned violent. Tear gas and fire extinguishers were used to repel the demonstrators gathered at Plaza del Zócalo, with 62 police officers and 19 protestors injured, according to Mexico City’s Secretaría de Seguridad Ciudadana. It would appear, therefore, that this issue is systemic. Not only are Mexican women under threat from their president, but also from their police force. In the UK, news that police officer Wayne Couzens had been charged with the murder of Sarah Everard and the Metropolitan Police’s “incredibly upsetting” handling of the vigil in Clapham on Saturday evening shows that this issue has no borders.
But which laboratory will put an end to this pandemic? Unfortunately, there is no magic potion that comes packaged in a small glass bottle. There is no friendly health care professional trained to pinpoint the exact point of entry and to wipe away the drop of blood, sending us on our way with sweaty palms and an inconspicuous beige plaster. Not just Mexico, not just the UK, but the entire world needs to take action. We need to make voices heard; to educate all generations; to dig up these crumbling foundations on which society has been constructed and to lay new ones so that women can experience a future existence that isn’t characterised by injustice, suffering and fear.