The Purple Revolution: Women Fight Against Violence And Impunity In Mexico

By Kendal Blust, Rodrigo Cervantes, Lauren Gilger
Published: Monday, March 9, 2020 - 7:54am
Updated: Friday, April 24, 2020 - 1:01pm

Rodrigo Cervantes
One out of thousands of women attending the #8M rally against femicides in Mexico City.

Sunday was a day for women to be seen, protesting on the streets of cities across Mexico for International Women’s Day. Monday was a day for them to disappear.

After massive feminist rallies on March 8, thousands of women across Mexico joined the "A Day Without Women" strike by not working, shopping or even using social media.

KJZZ's Fronteras correspondents — Rodrigo Cervantes in Mexico City and Kendal Blust in Hermosillo — report on the protests and the impact of this women's strike.

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Part 1: Tens Of Thousands Of Women March Across Mexico

Every day in Mexico, an average of 10 women are murdered for femicide — or just for being women — while thousands of others suffer verbal and physical violence. But now, hundreds of thousands of them are saying "enough is enough" with massive rallies on Sunday and a strike on Monday, called "A Day Without Women." 

More than 80,000 people rallied in Mexico City on Sunday, according to Mexico City’s authorities.

They included families with children, couples, moderate and radical feminists but, most of them, women deeply concerned about violence against women.

The women chanted: "Ni una más, ni una más, ni una asesinada más."  Not one more woman murdered. 

This revolution is feminist
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
Protesters carry a banner that reads, "this revolution is feminist," during the International Women's Day March in Hermosillo, Sonora, on March 8, 2020.

Like their counterparts across Mexico, women in the Sonoran capital Hermosillo marched Sunday to demand justice and an end to femicides on International Women's Day.

"They took them alive, we want them alive," the protesters chanted as they marched through the streets Sunday afternoon.

In Sonora, murders of women increased by 80% to 117 in 2019, compared to 65 in 2018. Among the victims are young girls, university students and a beloved scholar and activist who was brutally murdered by a romantic partner.

"I don't think it matters your age or what you look, simply being a woman puts you at risk," said 19-year-old Mila Lopez.

Decked out from head to toe in purple — the color of the movement — she was among thousands of women who march more than a mile through rain-soaked streets to the central plaza in Hermosillo.

"It's going to fall! It's going to fall! The patriarchy is going to fall," they chanted.

marchers hold up signs
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
Marchers hold up signs in Hermosillo, Sonora on March 8, 2020.

They arrived in the plaza at sunset, under a glowing purple sky, to proclaim their reasons for taking to the streets.

"They're still killing us. They're still harassing us. They're still violating us. They're still disappearing us," an organizer said over the loud speaker.

They also honored women and girls who have been victims of femicide, and sang a song of unity and hope for the feminist movement.

But the participants were also angry and fed up. And when the lights went out in the plaza, it felt to many like an intentional provocation. Just two weeks earlier, women in Hermosillo tore down the gates of the state judiciary building after being left in the dark during another protest.

This time, they stormed the cathedral. They broke windows, graffitied the side of the building and shouted "pedophiles" and "don’t touch little boys."

Inside, worshipers barricaded the doors with church pews.

"The stress, being at our limit, the desperation that for all this time no one has been listening to us. We're tired of asking peacefully, of being re-victimized, of being called liars," said 22-year-old Shelsy Montaño.

"Unfortunately, the government only responds when you step on something they care about," she added, referring to the cathedral and the judiciary building.

Woman holds up sign
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
A protester holds up a sign reading "I march because I'm alive, but I don't know for how much longer," during the International Women's Day march in Hermosillo, Sonora on March 8, 2020.

Women would like to protest peacefully, added her friend Barbara Rodriguez. But if change means burning everything to the ground, that’s what they’ll do.

"Let them break what needs to be broken and burn what needs to be burned," she said. "Everything can be fixed. You can paint the walls. You can repair the windows. But a woman's life can't be brought back."

It might not be any easy fight, she said. But it’s worth it to create a better future for women and girls in Sonora, and across the country.

"We're in a time of change, and change is never pretty or easy," Montaño said. "But we know that our ideals and our causes and reasons we're doing what we're doing are right. And all of us who are here, we're the generation that's willing to go through this transition to a system that truly establishes gender equality."

Monday, their protests continue with a nationwide strike called A Day Without Women.

"Today we protest, tomorrow we disappear," Montaño said. "In a good sense. In the sense that they'll see what it's like if we're gone."

Rodrigo Cervantes
Maru Vázquez is a painter who attended the 2020 women's rally in Mexico City.

The recent killings of a 7-year-old girl and a 25-year-old woman sparked the rallies all over the country, demanding justice and the end of femicides, which increased 10% from 2018 to 2019. 

But president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s reaction has been to blame the media and his conservative foes for inciting the protests. 

"We’ve been segregated and mistreated, but that’s not possible anymore", said Maru Vázquez, a painter participating in the rally.

Vázquez said she doesn’t want to talk about politics, since violence against women has been around for many administrations … but it’s time to stop being ignored.

"It’s unfortunate the (government’s) reaction is no reaction," she said.

Vázquez believes this is a problem throughout the world, but it’s time to build a new society based on respect. She said every single woman she knows has suffered some kind of violence or harassment. 

"I hope that we will be heard and that there really is a change, because what I do understand is that change will not be generated by the government, but by ourselves… and that is why we’re here," the artist said.

Rodrigo Cervantes
Pro abortonists rally for 2020 women's day in Mexico City

In another area of the rally, protesters danced and sang as a street duet plays the protest anthem "Bella Ciao".

But others drew graffiti on the streets and burned and destroyed police barricades, as well as windows and doors of some buildings.

There’s been a public debate in Mexico regarding vandalism during feminist rallies. Some people condemn it saying it’s unnecessary, but others justify it, like a group of women in the rally chanting: "Las morras no regresan, los muros sí se pintan." The girls won’t come back, but the walls can be repainted.

Many chants during the protests where to criticize the lack of action from the authorities to protect women. A group of women yelled to the police officers — most of them women: "Ojalá así nos cuidaran."

They say: "I wish you took care of me like that", accusing the police of protecting monuments and buildings from vandalism more than women.

Rodrigo Cervantes
Beatriz Arévalos (left) and her family attending the #8M march in Mexico City.

KJZZ's Rodrigo Cervantes talked to a man at the rally named Edgar, who asks him not to use his last name after being attacked by face-covered, radical feminists.

Edgar told him they suddenly paint-sprayed him after they saw him videoing them breaking a door. As they speak, they're interrupted by some of them, who ask him to shut up, saying that the rally is FOR and BY women.

They demanded to speak to women instead of men, but as Cervantes begins the question they leave, after another contingent asks them to stop and rally in peace.

An unidentified group threw molotov bombs near the gates of Mexico’s presidential office, the National Palace, where police stood up using their shields to protect themselves. "No violence", cried some of the protesters.

And among the protesters’ chants, there’s one referring to many women who’ve been abused, but ignored or dismissed: "Yo sí te creo, yo sí te creo. ..."

They’re saying: I do believe in you.

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Rodrigo Cervantes
Businesses operated mainly by women were shut down during the "Day Without Women" strike in Mexico City.

Part 2: Mixed Feelings And Results After The Strike

In Mexico City

Public transportation and some avenues looked almost empty. Many businesses were shut down. 

In a well-known pharmacy, employees wore purple shirts, the color of the feminist movement, that said: "We support the day without women". But many women decided to go to work.

Rodrigo Cervantes
Rosario Gutiérrez wearing a shirt supporting the "Day Without Women" strike at the pharmacy where she works in Mexico City.

There are always sick people in need of medication," said Rosario Gutiérrez, one of the employees.  She also explained they get commissions.

Gutiérrez said she’s seen more male customers, and she appreciates that many of them are also wearing purple.

Some businesses expressed support but threatened to dock female employees’ pay if they participated in the strike or made them work overtime on Friday to compensate.

Rodrigo Cervantes
BBVA was one of the companies in Mexico that supported the "Day Without Women" strike.

But many companies openly supported the strike, like BBVA Bank. Gerardo Álvarez works in one of its branches.

"The strike was necessary to make women’s voices heard," Álvarez said. The five women who work with him stayed home. 

Álvarez says some branches had to close since most of their personnel are women.

In another side of the city, some women worked on gardening for the government. 

Mexico City’s mayor — a woman — has accused conservative groups of driving the feminist protests, an allegation Mexico’s president has also made. But the mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, authorized female public workers to participate in the strike without penalty.

Rodrigo Cervantes
Elizabeth Lazcano (left) works on public gardening in Mexico City

But Elizabeth Lazcano, one of the gardeners, said she didn’t have authorization to stay home. Women like her had to pick up the trash after Sunday’s feminist protests.

"I’d have liked to participate in the strike and the rally, but, if you ask me, I would’ve proposed to march in silence," Lazcano said.

The violence in the country, Lazcano explained, deserves grief.

Idalia Lopez
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
Idalia Lopez sits in the main plaza in Hermosillo during the general strike, A Day Without Women, on March 9, 2020

In Hermosillo

The central plaza in Hermosillo was quiet on Monday. A few people were chatting on shaded benches. A little boy zipped around in a motorized car. And Idalia Lopez was sitting on the steps of the gazebo.

"There should be a Day Without Women, because there's so much harassment toward women," she said. "And the march, too. I support all of it."

Around the gazebo traces of purple glitter shimmering in the cracks of the sidewalk,and a lingering smell of spray paint women used to tag the plaza and cathedral were the only clues left that an estimated 5,000 women had crowded into the plaza to cheer and chant and protest against violence and femicide on International Women's Day.

Hermosillo cathedral
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
The morning after protests of International Women's Day, March 8, 2020, graffiti and paint had been removed from Hermosillo's cathedral.

Any evidence of the march seemed to have disappeared overnight. And so had many of the women who had filled the plaza, but chose to stay home Monday as part of the Day Without Women strike.

Lopez didn’t participate in the strike directly. She came three hours from Nogales to take care of some paperwork in the state capital. But she said she thinks women need to support each other. And it’s high time men start giving them the credit they deserve, too.

"It will show them that they need us, no?" she said with a chuckle.

Lopez was proud that her niece in southern Sonora took part in the strike, and a friend had stayed home from her factory job in Nogales, too.

But very few women in the border export manufacturing, or maquiladora, industry participated in the strike. Unlike some Mexican companies, most export manufacturers decided not to give women workers the day off.

"We did our job and invited them to think differently and to be part of the solution and not part of the problem," said Wendee Molina, president of the Index Nogales Maquiladora Association. 

She said the industry supports women’s fight against violence, but doesn’t see a strike as the right way to go about it.

"If women wanted to participate, the protest was yesterday," she said referring to the Sunday march. "The day is yesterday, not today."

And if maquiladora workers had stayed home during the strike, she said, it would have had a huge impact not only on Mexico, but on other countries that rely on Mexican factory workers for goods.

Of course, that’s the point of the strike - to make the country feel the absence of women. And if Hermosillo’s abnormally quiet streets were any indication, much of Mexico probably did.

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