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Mexican Women Protest Gender Violence, But Is the Government Listening? 

(AP Photo/Ginnette Riquelme)

I cannot fathom the extent of their pain, of course, but I know that if something were to happen to my mother or my friends, I would burn everything until justice were achieved.”

In Mexico, we have normalized many things that in other countries would be shocking national news every day, things that would cause most other governments to fall. Our newspapers publish photographs of the bodies of women who have been raped and killed beneath funny catchphrases and headlines. We say that women should be grateful that they are being harassed; we even blame the mother of a child who was brutally murdered “for not being there at the right time.” However, when groups of women try to de-normalize these actions and protest against a government that has done nothing tangible to eradicate gender violence, people can become critical. 

What I usually argue when somebody tries to discourage the Mexican feminist movement—or even mock those who are brave enough to take the streets and paint public property—is that doing this is one of the only ways to get the Mexican government to listen and take action. In addition, the fact that women protest in such ways is related to the anger, tiredness, and impotence we feel after our sisters, daughters, mothers, and partners have been raped, killed, or have disappeared in an endless cycle of violence. Can you imagine what the mothers, sisters, friends, colleagues of little Fatima, young Ingrid, or tender Nadia felt after learning they were gruesomely murdered? I cannot fathom the extent of their pain, of course, but I know that if something were to happen to my mother or my friends, I would burn everything until justice were achieved. 

So why are our leaders, particularly our President, so reluctant to listen even after learning how terribly Mexican women suffer day in day out?

I see no point in repeating what several media outlets have already stated: Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) will not change his strategy with regard to gender violence in Mexico. We know that feminist protests, including the 8M national protests (March 8th) and the 9M (March 9th) national strike #UnDiaSinNosotras have been heavily criticized by AMLO. He argued that these demonstrations of anger from women throughout Mexico have been solely the work of right-wing groups conspiring against him. In my view, however, our president has become blinded in such a way that he is now unable to see past his political problems; even after nearly a year-and-a-half in office, AMLO is still in a mindset of campaigning, rather than governing. This might not be true in all areas of public policy, of course. But it is certainly true when it comes to gender violence and the growing wave of femicides. 

AMLO’s decision to continue with a strategy that has proven to be insufficient to stop and solve gender-related crimes not only impacts more than 50% of Mexicansbut it also impacts the women closest to him. Allow me to explain. 

I believe that while her lack of appreciation for the gravity of the situation may be an issue, she is most likely another victim of the Mexican patriarchy and ingrained machismo. She is a victim of the same man who has decided to ignore his wife and thousands of women pleading for justice and help. 

When the feminist collective Brujas del Mar began organizing a national strike, Mexican First Lady Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller openly supported the strike, and she even invited women to join the movement in self-authored social media posts. A few days later, however, Gutiérrez took back her support of the 9M strike and instead asked all women and men in Mexico to “support AMLO and work towards our country’s development.” This seemed to be nothing short of government propaganda. Many criticized Gutiérrez and even called her a hypocrite for being unable to make up her mind. I believe that while her lack of appreciation for the gravity of the situation may be an issue, she is most likely another victim of the Mexican patriarchy and ingrained machismo. She is a victim of the same man who has decided to ignore his wife and thousands of women pleading for justice and help. 

So, why is it so important for the President to state clearly that the government will come up with better strategies for fighting gender violence? First—and most obviously—we must reduce the number of women killed every day in Mexico. (That is approximately ten per day.) Potential strategies include standardizing how crimes against women are treated by the criminal justice system, given that, at present, definitions of crimes against women vary from state to state. As recently as last month, Mexico’s General Prosecutor, Alejandro Gertz Manero, presented a bill to homologate the crime of femicide in all states in Mexico. If adopted, this would mean that the killing of women involving physical and sexual violence would not be treated as an aggravated homicide—or, in some cases even ignored and filed as suicide. Instead, it should be prosecuted as precisely what it is: femicide. 

Second, the Mexican government must recognize that acts of violence against women exist on many levels and are not just limited to overt crimes and assaults. We must also consider removing from office authorities that have been complicit in our country’s crisis against women. For example, in 2014, after an undercover investigation by the radio state MVS Noticias, several media outlets reported that former leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre, was accused of overseeing a human trafficking and prostitution network. He was never prosecuted. According to articles published this month by local media outlets such as Aristegui Noticias and Excelsior, Gutiérrez is once again being embraced by his party and being protected despite his actions.

Since its ascent to power in 2018, AMLO’s government has sought to portray itself as the “gender parity government.” As such, it has boasted that there are now more women in government posts than ever before. This is true, and now 50% of the Mexican Congress is comprised of female legislators. However, no real or concrete actions are being taken to improve the lives of everyday women all around the country. I then ask myself, “What good is there in claiming you’re a government achieving gender equality if you have abandoned your families, victims, women, and girls?” Of course, good results may come out of feminist protests and strikes; social change does happen with the help of revolutions and protests. However, we cannot change Mexico by ourselves, and we cannot expect everyone to take action, even after our names and the names of those who died due to gender violence cover the National Palace’s walls. We have to shout louder, push for new strategies, and not give up on our most vulnerable. 

If AMLO and his government continue solely to pay lip service to gender issues but not actually address the consequences of gender violence in Mexico, women and girls will continue to die. In the meantime, those of us who remain alive will continue fighting for our rights, painting monuments and setting fires. This is especially true when the President is more concerned about walls and pieces of stone than the deaths of actual Mexican women. I stand with all the mothers, daughters, sisters, families, friends, and colleagues of femicide victims—and with all the women and girls who, like myself, have suffered from abuse or gender violence. So, to the Mexican government, please note that the feminist wave in Mexico is a force to be reckoned with. We will keep protesting, striking, shouting, painting until justice is achieved.

Verónica Lira Ortiz is an honors graduate with a B.A. in International Relations from Tecnológico de Monterrey, who is currently focusing on gender studies and developing student programs against gender violence. She can be reached on Twitter @vero_alo

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