Mexico is one of the most violent places on earth to be a woman. Verbal and physical assaults in the street, violence at home, rape, murder and human trafficking, combine with appallingly low conviction rates and institutionalised victim-blaming to create an environment of normalised violence towards Mexico’s women and girls.
63% of women over the age of fifteen have reported being assaulted in some way; out of 15,000 reported rapes every year, only one in 5 rapists are sentenced; every 24 hours in Mexico, 7 women are killed. These figures are shocking, but – as so often happens- Mexicans had become somewhat desensitised to the statistics and it took a string of individual stories to galvanise the national response that this growing crisis calls for. In one such case, Yakiri Rubio was abducted, beaten, cut and raped in 2013. She managed to grab one of the attacker’s knives and stab him before fleeing to find help at a nearby police station. She went there as a victim reporting a rape and two hours later she had been charged with capital murder. After 86 days in prison and a drawn-out legal process, Rubio was freed and the charges were dropped in May 2015. Cynthia Hijar, organiser of the #VivasNosQueremos [We want us alive] march, describes Rubio’s ordeal as a “watershed moment” which brought women from all over the country together to forge a network of new and existing activist groups.
These new national campaigns, such as the ‘No Te Calles’ [Don’t Stay Silent] and ‘Vivas Nos Queremos’ [We Want Us Alive] campaigns, have been incredibly effective. It is, of course, bittersweet in the extreme to celebrate the fact that hundreds of thousands of women got involved with a social media campaign which used the hashtag #miprimeracoso [My first harassment] to collect testimonies. However, the fact that so many women are cutting through the shame and victim-blaming to speak out about assault is something to celebrated. The idea for a national march was born from this atmosphere of increasing dialogue, awareness and outrage. So, in the first demo of its kind in Mexico, on the 24th April people in 27 cities took to the streets to protest gender-based violence in all its forms. The biggest gathering took place in Mexico City, where over 10,000 people marched, according to the organisers. From midday well into the evening, the crowds marched, danced and shouted, with chants such as “Desnudas o vestidas, respeta nuestra vida” [“naked or clothed, respect our lives” ] and “ni una más” [“not one more”].
It’s clear that the 24A march broke the silence – both literally and metaphorically – but the question facing activists now is, can this turn into a movement that brings about real change? In a country where the police and ‘justice’ systems respond to survivors with shaming and recriminations, it is clear that this fight won’t be easy. This wave of action against gender-based violence started with hashtags and it’s always a fear that a social-media campaign will fail to grow into a fully-rounded movement. We can only hope that the Vivas Nos Queremos protests mark the transition, and that the primavera violeta [Purple spring] blossoms into a powerful and resilient movement.
Further reading/ interesting links:
Some great campaigns/ activist groups to follow, start with their Facebook pages (all in Spanish, but you can rely on the ‘trusty’ Facebook translate feature if you don’t speak Spanish!)
This article was written by Ellioté Long