Ariel Go Jr.
Thousands of women took to the streets in Mexico City -some carrying their children and others bats and hammers- to protest the rising violence against women in Mexico, on March 8 which marked the International Women’s Day. The march was stimulated by public outrage over the actions of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, who many see as out of touch. Lopez Obrador was heavily criticized for his continuous support of the candidate for governor of Guerrero, Felix Salgado Macedonio, who had been accused of rape on two occasions. Guerrero prosecutors are currently investigating these accusations of rape against Salgado, but the candidate has denied them through his lawyers.
AMLO was sworn into office in 2018 after promising to lead a social transformation and purge the country of the deep-rooted corruption afflicting the Mexican economy. Many citizens, however, condemned President Lopez Obrador for ignoring the problem of gender-based violence. Lopez Obrador responded by defending his record on gender equality, mentioning that half of his cabinet is comprised of women. Despite his professed efforts to increase equality in the state, his policies have not succeeded in addressing the ongoing violence that kills more than ten women a day and subjects many others to live in fear of their lives. According to Reuters, data shows that at least 939 cases of femicide, or murders specifically targeting women, were reported in 2020 and that gender violence rates in Mexico have soared over the past five years, with murders of women rising almost 130 percent .
Unlike demonstrations of the previous year on International Women’s Day when Mexican women combined their efforts to form a vast and peaceful protest against gender-based violence, the march this year was smaller in size, which is attributed to the concerns over COVID-19 precautions. Despite the smaller scale of the protest, the authorities decided to erect steel barriers around the National Palace in Mexico City on the Saturday before the day of the march. AMLO announced that the barrier was simply a means to avoid injuries and prevent any potential confrontation with the police. According to NBC News, the barriers did not sit well with the public, further inciting negative feelings from women in Mexico who saw the barrier as a symbol of the division that exists between the women’s movement and the president. In a show of resistance, protesters agreed to use the ten-foot tall barriers to their advantage, painting the walls with the names of women killed, many of them victims of femicide. Activists also tore a section of the barrier apart and spray-painted different sidewalks and kiosks.
Some groups opted for violence to force the government of Mexico to pay attention to and consider their demands, leading to clashes between demonstrators and Mexico City police. According to BBC News, one such instance occurred in the main square of the capital, the Zocalo, where officers used tear gas, batons, and riot shields to push back protesters and cause them to disperse. In retaliation, some demonstrators set fire to the riot shields. There have also been reports of police arresting journalists and activists in the crowd. According to The New York Times, Mexico City’s security branch reports that at least 62 officers and 19 members of the public were injured, some of whom were hit by bullets. While altercations between women’s rights demonstrators and the police are becoming more common, many agree it is necessary for the government to understand that they are not doing enough to prosecute femicide and commemorate murdered women.
Support for the women’s movement has also been growing among Mexico’s celebrities and politicians. According to Bloomberg, over 500 politicians and supporters of Lopez Obrador’s party, the Morena, have denounced Salgado for the rape accusations against him and have signed on to a letter calling for his removal as a candidate for governor in Guerrero. Celebrities like Julieta Venegas and Gael Garcia have also urged the president to stop finding fault in the protest movement. The Guardian cites Arussi Unda, spokeswoman of the Las Brujas del Mar and a feminist collective in Veracruz, who asserted that “[AMLO] has placed the feminist movement as public enemy No. 1.” She went on to say, “We are not asking for crazy things. We’re asking that women get to work, that women aren’t killed, and girls aren’t raped. It’s not insane, not eccentric, it’s human rights.”