Femicides in Mexico “have always been bad but I see that it’s getting worse and I see how the government is not reacting and showing indifference,” says Jessica Castillo, a 37-year-old mother of two girls in the industrial town of Monterrey, arguably the most socially conservative city in Mexico.
Castillo, like thousands of other women in Monterrey, will be joining the women’s march in her city for the first time ever. For weeks, she has prepared for this with her friends, looking for purple t-shirts to wear and discussing whether to bring their youngest children – their daughters – to the protest.
As this will be their first time attending the annual protest, they don’t know what to expect and are concerned for their daughters’ safety. “Maybe previous attempts or smaller movements did not succeed [in ending femicides],” she added, “but now, women are going to stand firm and together say ‘no.’”
“That is the first step, to show this outrage, this indignation, this anger and that we are not willing to continue doing nothing.”
In late 2018, a new federal government took office led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who promised to tackle “the root causes” of violence and organised crime. But in the fifteen months of his administration so far, Mexico’s record on violence has instead reached an all-time high.
2019 became the year with the most murders in the past two decades. Numbers of femicides have also increased. According to Mexico’s Public Security Secretariat, 320 women were murdered this January, 73 of which were recorded as femicides (more than twice that recorded in January 2015).
In his daily press conferences, President López Obrador has been repeatedly questioned by journalists about what his government is doing to end this violence. Other estimates from Mexico’s national human rights commission suggest that 90% of registered femicides go unpunished, with no convictions.
“I don’t want the theme of this press conference to be femicides,” López Obrador said on 5 February, claiming that this has been used by his political opponents to “manipulate” and “distort” facts.
Days later, as his comments drew a fierce backlash, he accused feminists of being “covert conservatives” working to attack him politically. He argued that femicides are instead the result of previous “neoliberal” governments, and was condemned for dismissing concerns with vague plans for ‘moral regeneration’.
Feminists fight back
Shortly after seven-year-old Fátima’s death made national headlines, a group of about fifteen women in the coastal state of Veracruz called for a country-wide labour strike the day after the women’s march this Sunday.
The Veracruz group, called Brujas del Mar ( “Witches of the Sea”), is connected to a nationwide network of other feminist groups who supported their call to action that quickly went viral on social media. Women all over the country began announcing that they too would join the strike.