Women in Mexico Are Urged to Disappear for a Day in Protest

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MEXICO CITY — 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.

That’s the vision of an alliance of feminist groups in Mexico that — fueled by the rising violence against women and girls, including two horrific murders that appalled the nation this month — have called for a 24-hour strike by the country’s female population on March 9.

The action is to protest gender-based violence, inequality and the culture of machismo, and to demand greater support for women’s rights. Promoted under the hashtag #UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS, A Day Without Us, it has gained extraordinary momentum across this country of more than 120 million, with wide-ranging buy-in from the public and private sectors, civic groups, religious leaders and many, if not most, women.

The support has cut across the boundaries of class, ethnicity, wealth and politics that fracture this nation, and has given organizers hope that this might be not just a monumental event but also a watershed moment in the modern history of Mexico.

“So many of our slogans and mottos — like, ‘The revolution will be feminist,’ or ‘The future is feminist’ — they talked about this moment,” said Arussi Unda, the spokeswoman for Las Brujas del Mar, a feminist collective in the state of Veracruz that is helping to mobilize the strike. “It seems like the moment might already be here.”

In the past year, feminist activism in Mexico, partly inspired by the global #MeToo movement, has gained new energy as women have taken to the streets in anger and frustration to protest gender-based violence and entrenched attitudes of machismo. The protests have been rowdy and, at times, violent, as participants have smashed windows and defaced public monuments — including the National Palace — with spray-painted slogans and feminist exhortations.

Sabina Berman, a Mexican novelist and feminist activist, said that the nucleus of these latest protests was a younger generation of women who have lost patience with a more measured approach to activism.

“They have decided to skip the pacifist, smiling kind of protests, and instead smash windows,” she said. “It was them who lit the spark by taking that further step, and they made us all wake up.”

After simmering for months, the movement reached a roiling boil this month after the horrific murders of a woman and a girl.

Ingrid Escamilla, 25, a Mexico City resident, was stabbed, skinned and disemboweled. Her body was found on Feb. 9, and photos of her mutilated body were leaked to tabloids, which published the images on their front pages, adding to the public outrage.

On Feb. 11, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett, 7, was abducted from her primary school in Mexico City and her body was discovered wrapped in a plastic bag next to a construction site on the outskirts of the capital.

Ms. Unda said her feminist activist group “was shaken to its core” by the deaths and met with other groups to decide how to respond.

“We asked each other, ‘What else has to happen for this to change?’” she recalled.

Instead of occupying public spaces, the traditional approach to protest, they decided to stage an action that symbolized women’s disappearance from them — “in order to send a message of anger and rejection of violence against women,” she said.

For participants in the strike on March 9, the instructions are straightforward: Stay home. The strike will come a day after International Women’s Day, during which protesters are expected to take to streets across the country.

Many corporations and companies have voiced their support for the strike and said they would not penalize their female employees who took the day off.

Mexico’s Business Coordinating Council, an influential coalition of business groups, issued a statement urging companies to support employees who participate in the strike.

“Without a doubt, the response of the authorities in the past few years has not been adequate or sufficient,” the council said, referring to the crisis of violence against women. “But we have all failed as a society.”

“It is time for solidarity and empathy,” the statement continued, “but also time for responsibility and actions. Each and every one of us must do our part.”

One large national business group, Concanaco Servytur, estimated that the one-day strike would cost the Mexican economy $1.37 billion.

Many branches of local, state and federal government have also voiced their support for employees who participate in the strike.

Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City, said she had instructed all the department heads in municipal government not to penalize any female employees who stayed away from work on the day of the strike. She said the city employed about 150,000 women.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has spoken generally in support of citizens’ rights to protest. But he has also seen the specter of political machinations in the strike, and has said that his opponents were using the moment to sow political opposition to his administration.

“No manipulation, no opportunism,” he cautioned during a news conference this week.

The strike’s organizers and others, however, have shrugged off the president’s insinuation that the event, for some, is a political gambit.

“This is not against his government or any government,” Ms. Berman said. “It is against the entire Mexican state, against the private sector, against the men who harass, who rape, who kill, and against those good men who stand by and do nothing.”

The organizers hope that the strike is not simply a fleeting demonstration but that it inspires a robust national conversation and effects substantive changes across Mexican society. These include specific measures — such as the improvement of corporate day care facilities for working mothers — and broader shifts in attitudes toward women and women’s rights.

“What we really want is for this not to end up being an anecdote, or a nice picture from the march,” Ms. Unda said, “but rather for it to turn into concrete action.”

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