MEXICO CITY (CN) — As many as 50,000 women marched on Mexico City’s main square on International Women’s Day Tuesday to demand the government take action to address the record high levels of gender-based violence in the country.
The vast majority of protesters participated in nonviolent action, but a cadre of masked protesters vandalized barricades, businesses and public art installations in the city center. Such vandalism has become characteristic of women’s protests in Mexico in recent years.
Small groups of women’s rights organizations presented dances, music, speeches and other artistic performances in several areas of the city center in the early afternoon.
At the flagpole in the city’s main square, the Mine y Fru Collective handed out “Certificates of Survival” as a symbolic act, urging women to put their demands and desires in writing and to take charge of their safety.
“Taking care of ourselves depends on us,” said Fru Trejo, 39, co-founder of the collective. “It means not following the normalized conducts, not allowing ourselves to be humiliated and beaten. It’s about putting our own self-care first.”
Mine y Fru sealed participants’ forms with a rubber stamp, but they had no plans of turning the official-looking documents into the government. “This is for them,” said Trejo, pointing to women who had just had their forms stamped.
“I desire justice for my daughter and for all of us,” wrote Odette Flores, 22, in sidewalk chalk on the ground near the flagpole. She told Courthouse News that a man broke into her Mexico City residence and strangled her nine-day-old daughter in November 2020. She reported the incident to authorities, “but nothing came of it,” she said.
Friends of Karla Pamela Rodríguez Galicia helped her hold photos of her five-year-old daughter Ángeles, whom she said had been taken from her by her abusive husband in March 2021. Although she has legal custody of Ángeles and reported what she considers a kidnapping to authorities, she is still searching for her daughter.
“I haven’t heard anything from her in a year,” she said through tears. “How can my daughter be with a person like him, who hit me, forced sex on me and called me a whore? I’m hear hoping that they’ll listen.”
A rush of emotion ran through Cinco de Mayo Avenue as larger groups made their way to the main square around 4 p.m. Participants carried handmade posters and chanted slogans of the women’s rights movement in Mexico.
“They took them alive, we want them back alive!” they shouted in unison. “Woman, sister! If he hits you, he doesn’t love you!”
Masked protesters graffitied walls and banged on the security shutters of businesses closed in anticipation of the demonstration. Some broke through a plywood barrier and shattered the glass of a bank entrance.
Others took hammers, wrenches, metal pipes and almost whatever else was at hand to the metal barricades set up around the National Palace, on the east side of the main square. Some lit spray paint to use like flame throwers on the barricade.
While most demonstrators did not directly participate in this way, the masked protesters received widespread support from the crowd.
“These women represent us!” many chanted.
Security forces on the other side of the barricade responded by spraying fire extinguisher chemicals through the slats and firing noise cannons in an attempt to dissuade the protesters.
Leslie, 19, who preferred not to give her last name, supported the masked protesters with chants. She told Courthouse News that, as a rape victim herself, she was demonstrating in hopes that others wouldn’t suffer the same violence.
“I’m fighting for my niece, who will be born soon, so that she doesn’t have to experience what I’ve lived through,” she said.
Holding hammers and bottles of spray paint, two masked protesters, who spoke to Courthouse News on conditions of anonymity, said that the vandalism they carried out at the protest was a merited response to the violence women experience every day in Mexico.
“We’re seeing 10 femicides a day in Mexico now,” said one. “This reaction is just. We deserve justice. It does no good to report crimes, because the police themselves are aggressors, as well. They just harm women again by revictimizing them.”
“I believe that in Mexico there isn’t one woman who hasn’t experienced some kind of gender-based violence or harassment,” said the other.
Government statistics appear to back up claims of heightened levels of violence against women. Mexico’s National Public Security System registered 1,004 femicides in 2021, the first time that number had breached 1,000 in one year.
Referring to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s touted “Fourth Transformation” of Mexico, a banner posted on a building opposite the National Palace stated plainly why protesters were in the square.
“The Fourth Transformation costs lives,” it read. “More than 3,000 femicides.”Follow @@copycopeland
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