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.
Just how many stay home remains to be seen.
“They aim to demonstrate what the country would look like without women. The goal is to see NO women in offices or schools. NO women in restaurants or stores. NO women on public transportation, in cars or on the street. A country without women, for one day,” said writer Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado.
The protest follows several grisly killings, giving rise to a movement to draw attention to Mexico’s stunning levels of attacks on women.
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 bread company.
The economic losses in the capital alone could hit $300 million, according to the Mexico City branch of Coparmex, an influential employers’ association.
But it’s a reckoning in the wake of a history of disrespect, and worse, toward women.
“Most of us have experienced strangers gesturing lewdly, shouting out vulgar names, groping and touching inappropriately. Sometimes the creeps expose themselves, make obscene phone calls and now, there’s cyber bullying – even these ‘minor incidents’ are frustrating and demeaning,” said van der Gracht. “Abuse is abuse.”
“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 a suburb of Mexico City. “The authorities in charge of public security are not doing much to defend us.”
Overall violence has escalated in recent years in Mexico, but women have taken on a disproportionate share of the abuse. An estimated 25 percent of Mexico’s female homicide victims are killed in the home, compared with 10 percent of male victims. An unresponsive justice system is being blamed.
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.
Van der Gracht, a Merida-based writer and educator, recalled an anecdote that gives hope to the power of women to fight back.
“Right here in Merida, I know of a mother and her daughter who did just that,” she wrote on her Changes in Our Lives blog. “A small-time extortionist tried to get them to pay for his ‘protection’ of their small business; they got a picture of him, and denounced him. This was not easy, but they did it. In my book, these women are heroes.”
Sources: Washington Post, Changes in Our Lives