Mexican Women Seize Government Building to Demand Action on Gender Violence
“To hell with your institutions,” Mexican feminists yelled from a balcony of the National Human Rights Commission headquarters on September 14. Frustrated with the Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Amlo) administration’s inaction on rising gender violence against women in the country, they seized the government building as part of a string of direct action protests to signal their intolerance of women’s rapes, murders, and forced disappearances that have claimed the lives of 3,825 women.
The women have said they will employ the government building as a shelter for victims of gender-based violence until the government agrees to take action. Amlo has painted this move as part of a conservative political agenda to undermine his government, a claim for which there is no evidence.
The current wave of protests began in August 2019, in response to the alleged rape of a woman by police officers. Mexican feminists attempted a “Glitter Revolution,” in which they dumped pink glitter on public monuments, ‘defacing’ them. In March, they carried out the country’s first-ever national women’s strike, in which thousands of women attempted to shut down the country by disappearing from their homes, workplaces, schools, supermarkets, and banks. The problem worsened after the Amlo administration, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis, cut funding for women’s shelters and organizations tackling gender-based violence, a move particularly infuriating during a time when domestic violence rates increased all around the world.
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In September, Marcela Alemán sought legal recourse against her daughter’s sexual abusers and was asked to file yet another report with the government, The Nation reported. Frustrated with the crippling bureaucracy that prevented her from getting justice for her daughter, she took the laces from her sneakers and tied them to a chair inside the National Human Rights Commission building. Her refusal to leave the building then prompted feminists to make a human shield in front of the government building to deter the police from evicting Alemán. Soon after, police stormed the building, as the number of women — abused, or family of the abused — grew outside, mobilizing and agitating.
The women have taken down paintings of heroes from inside the building, painted them over with elaborate make-up, and lined them up as barricades on the entrances. The occupation in Mexico City has also inspired women in other states to either seize or protest outside their government buildings, in a loose-formed movement defined by frustration and a defiant will to ruffle the feathers of powerful men. While the protests have erupted as a result of inaction from the Amlo government, whether they can accomplish the breadth of institutional change these women are demanding remains to be seen. For now, they’re garnering international attention for their fearlessness.
“They say we destroy and paint things, but it’s the only way to get the government to turn to look at us,” The Guardian reported one protester saying. “What a shame that the government wants us to destroy things.”