Women’s Fight For Rights In Mexico: Violence And Resistance Amid The Pandemic

By Kendal Blust, Rodrigo Cervantes
Published: Thursday, March 25, 2021 - 5:05am
Updated: Friday, March 26, 2021 - 11:33am

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fists held high
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
Women stand for a moment of silence, fists held high, as they remember those who have been killed during a women's march in Hermosillo, Sonora, on March 8, 2021.

On March 8, the streets of the Sonoran capital, Hermosillo echoed with chants and car horns, as more than a thousand women marched on International Women’s Day, joining tens of thousands across the country calling for an end of the crisis of killings and disappearances of women and girls in Mexico.

Cecilia and Regina
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
Cecilia Durazo brought her daughter Regina to the women's march in Hermosillo, Sonora, on March 8, 2021. The sigh reads "My mom is teaching me to fight for my rights."

Last year along, nearly 3,800 women and girls were murdered in Mexico. More than 10 a day on average.

So despite the ongoing pandemic, women of all ages came out with friends, sisters and daughters demanding attention for the violence that has touched nearly every woman’s life.

“I’m here because I lost a friend, I lost Ámbar,” said Cecilia Durazo. “And because I won’t want to love my sister. And for my daughter. So that tomorrow, they will be free.”

Ámbar, a 20-year-old architecture student who was raped, strangled and stabbed more than 60 times in Hermosillo in May 2019.

The femicide — or murder of a woman because of her gender — was one of three reported on the same day that year, now known in Sonora as “Black Thursday.”

Durazo marched with her 4-year-old daughter, Regina, who held up a sign scrawled in purple marker with her shaky toddler script — “My mom is teaching me to fight for my rights.”

Nearby, doctors Renée Rivera and María Soto hold up signs honoring femicide victim Mariana Sánchez, who was found hanged outside the medical clinic where she worked in southern Mexico in January.

Just two months earlier she reported she had been sexually assaulted by a member of the community. Authorities never investigated the complaint.

Renee Rivera
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
Dr. Renee Rivera attended the women's march in Hermosillo, Sonora, on March 8, 2021, to honor the memory of a fellow doctor murdered in southern Mexico in January.

“We’re here for ourselves, for all women, but in our hearts, we’re also here for Mariana,” Soto said. “We’re here in her memory.”

As the crowd gathered in a city plaza, a member of one of Sonora’s feminist collectives called their attention, and began to read a statement on International Women’s Day.

“Today, we aren’t out here to celebrate our condition as women. We’re not here to celebrate anything,” she said into a megaphone.

Instead, women in Hermosillo and across the country were demanding their rights, honoring those who are gone and showing their world they’re still here.

The crowd erupted in cheers and chants as she finished the speech.

Violence In A Pandemic

It’s never been easy for women to speak out against violence in Mexico, but it’s gotten even harder amid the pandemic, says Andrea Sánchez, a member of the local feminist group Marea Verde, or green wave, that is fighting, among other things for women’s right to safe and legal abortions.

“It’s been difficult to make the decision to take to the streets. We’ve all faced illness, we’ve had loved ones who have died from the coronavirus,” she said. “But just as the violence hasn’t let up during the pandemic, we can’t either.”

street signs
Kendal Blust/KZZ
Women pasted the names of femicide victims over street signs in Hermosillo, Sonora, on March 7, 2021.

Despite an uptick in femicides and murders of women early in the pandemic, when the average number of women killed jumped from 10 to 11 daily, official figures show that overall the number of women killed in 2020 was nearly the same as in 2019, when Mexico reported a record 3,837 murdered women.

Of those killings, 369 were classified as femicides in 2019. In 2020, Mexico reported 367 femicides. That classification, however, is highly dependent on each state. Overall, about 25 percent of murders of women are classified as femicides in Mexico.

But states ranged from as few as 4% of murders of women being classified as femicides in Guanajuato (20 of 433 murdered women) to more than 70 percent given that designation in Coahuila (29 of 38) and Sinaloa (27 of 38). In Sonora, 36% of women murdered were classified as femicides in 2020, or of 87 women murdered in Sonora last year, 32 were considered femicides.

And while femicides remained stable from 2019 to 2020, other figures from last year show significant increases in gender violence.

“Disappearances, especially of girls, adolescents and women, have definitely been increasing,” said Krimilda Bernal, a data analyst for the citizen watchdog group Sonora Security Observatory. “And unfortunately we project that crimes against women will continue rising, both of those who are trapped in dangerous situations at home because of the pandemic, as well as because of the broader situation of violence in the country.”

Nearly 2,000 women and girls went missing last year in Mexico, the highest number in recent years. Most have never been found.

In Sonora, legislators declared a humanitarian emergency last October due to the growing number of missing girls. The state is now among the top five in the nation for both disappearances and clandestine graves, which are often discovered by loved ones dedicated to finding the missing - dead or alive. This week alone, authorities have publicized the disappearances of seven women in the state.

Emergency calls related to violence against women also rose more than 30% in 2020, to more than 260,000 from about 197,700 in 2019. In March 2020, women made 26,000 911 calls reporting domestic violence, sexual abuse, harassment and other gender-based crimes, the highest number ever reported in Mexico. And the National Network of Shelters reported that three times as many women sought refuge in 2020 than in previous years.

“We can also see that authorities are failing victims,” Bernal added.

hugging women
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
Two women embrace during the women's march in Hermosillo, Sonora, on March 8, 2021.

In Mexico, impunity is high, women who report abuse are often revictimized, and the president has repeatedly minimized the issue, Bernal said. That means the real number of women who are experiencing violence is likely even higher than the numbers suggest, she said.

That’s a problem Wendy Briceño said she recognizes.

“The numbers are incredibly high. Seventy percent of women over the age of 15 in Mexico report that they have experienced some kind of violence because of their gender,” said Briceño, a congressional delegate from Sonora and head of the body’s Gender Equality Commission. “That’s a tremendous number.”

speaker
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
A young women reads a poem she wrote during the women's march in Hermosillo, Sonora, on March 8, 2021.

Addressing that scale of violence, she said, will require much greater commitment from all levels of government, including by her own Morena party, led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

But demonstrations across the country this month show that the pandemic hasn’t stopped the movement’s efforts to make Mexico confront the grisly reality of gender violence, she said.

“It shows that these movements, these expressions are still alive,” she said.

Resistance And Solidarity

Roaring chants and songs at the Hermosillo march at times fell silent.

Hundreds of women stood shoulder to shoulder, listening to the sobs of the mother and sisters of a 13-year-old girl murdered years before. Around them, women embraced, raised their fists and erupted in shouts of support.

“You’re not alone,” they chanted. “Your fight is our fight.”

“A lot of people don’t agree with these movements,” said Cecilia Durazo, who was marching with her daughter. “But when you lose someone, when you lose a friend or family member, you know that this is what you have to do. Because if you don’t come out, if you don’t shout, no one is going to listen to you. We’ll remain behind. We won’t move forward. Nothing will change.”

Standing in solidary with other women to make the impacts of violence visible, she said, is the only way to change the situation for women in Mexico.

Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ
Shelves in a supermarket in Mexico City with feminine hygiene products have no tampons after the 2021 ban of these products.

In Mexico City, The Fight For Women’s Rights Follows A Tampon Ban 


MEXICO CITY — In Mexico's capital, the female struggle for justice and equality is clashing with environmentalism and private and public interests.

For years, Mexico City has been a progressive leader for women’s rights, including legal abortion, reserved seats in public transportation and gender parity rules for public offices. But now issues surrounding access to female sanitary products are stirring a tug-of-war between businesses, feminists, environmentalists and the government. 

Every month, for about 40 years of their lives, women have a period. And despite being a natural cycle, menstruation has been surrounded by prejudices and taboos.

AnahiRodriguez
Anahi Rodriguez is spokesperson for Menstruación Digna México

"Tampons do not cause toxic shocks or make women lose their virginity," says a recent TV ad for a tampon brand trying to break myths.

And tampons are now at the center of a controversy in Mexico City; one that has to do with women’s rights. Anahí Rodríguez is part of the conversation. 

Looking For Gender Perspective

"When I was on my period, I used to stay on my bench at school during recess; I felt embarrassed and I didn't want to be bullied", Rodríguez recalled.

Now, she’s the spokesperson for Menstruación Digna México, a non-partisan group of about 30 nonprofits fighting for women’s right to control their bodies.

The organization wants to eliminate taxes from sanitary products, make them free for underprivileged sectors and improve information about menstruation. And a recent environmental law in Mexico City banning single-use plastics, including tampons, is drawing their attention.

"The law has no gender perspective," Rodríguez said.

She said tampons are the physiological  and economical preference for many women.

"I know that protecting the environment is very important, but other realities need to be considered as well," the spokesperson said. 

Ornela Garelli
Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ
Ornela Garelli is the responsible consumption specialist for Greenpeace Mexico

Rodríguez said other priorities should include ensuring women’s access to clean water and health services, both of which are also important for their period.

Environmentalism And Feminism

Ornela Garelli is the responsible consumption specialist for Greenpeace Mexico.

“The ban is good in itself because menstrual products, including tampons, are contributing to the pollution of our environment,” said Garelli.

However, she said he ban needs complementary measures to ensure alternatives to women.

“Feminism or women’s right to manage our menstruation doesn’t have to be against the protection of the environment,” the environmentalist said. 

And she said the companies behind these products are also responsible. The single-use plastic bans started last year and have been discussed for even longer.

“They had two years to make that transit and to provide alternatives to women, and they didn’t do it,” said Garelli.

National Association of the Plastic Industry
Susana Hernández is technical manager of the National Association of the Plastic Industry

Garelli said there’s no data showing how pollutive female sanitary products are, but Greenpeace estimates it’s similar to baby diapers, which account for almost 7% of waste generation.

Like Plastic Straws

Susana Hernández is technical manager of the National Association of the Plastic Industry.

"The government didn’t fully include us in the discussion and suddenly ordered us to stop selling certain single-use plastics," Hernández said.

She said the industry is not against regulations, but without a transition, unemployment and business closures have followed, with no time for them to bring alternatives. 

"I think that the tampon ban issue is similar to banning plastic straws: their low consumption makes them easier to ban than more common, yet equally polluting products, like diapers or sanitary pads," Hernández said. 

Gender Parity And Presidential Machismo

Martha Tagle is a congresswoman focused on gender issues.

"Gender parity in Mexico’s congress has facilitated more discussion of women’s issues," Tagle said.

MarthaTagle Office
MarthaTagle is a Mexican congresswoman

The congresswoman said there are current attempts to eliminate a tax on female hygiene products on a federal level or to provide them for free in many local congresses.

The state of Michoacán recently approved a law to distribute female hygiene products in public schools for free.

But Tagle says Mexico City’s tampon ban has demonstrated gender gaps. And she says some alternatives to tampons, like menstrual cups, are still expensive and rare.

"According to data gathered by Mexico’s Congress, the cost of sanitary products represents up to 8 percent of women’s income," Tagle said.

Tagle said female hygiene products are gender-driven taxed products. She said their taxes provide about $143 million annually to the government, while jewelry and fertilizers are tax-exempt. 

And Tagle says women’s health is not a priority for the federal government under the conservative rhetoric of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Office of the Mexican President
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador appeared on a press conference in 2021 surrounded by part of his female staff amidst accusations of mysoginist views.

"Some want to change the role of Mexican women, who by tradition take care of their parents," said the president during a public speech last year, as the pandemic evolved and hospitalization was becoming an issue for the State.

López Obrador has been accused of supporting the candidacy for Guerrero governor of Félix Salgado Macedonio, a politician from his party facing sexual harassment accusations.

The president has stated that feminist groups protesting in the country are manipulated by his right-winged political foes. His administration  cut expenses on female health issues, such as cancer treatments, and public daycares. 

But congresswoman Tagle says the voices of women will keep rising louder than machismo.

"Mexico will change or transform only with the power of women," Tagle said. 

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