More and more radical, Mexican feminists take control of federal building

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Clad in black hoods and armed with spray paint, the women stormed into Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission and took control.They kicked out officials, ripped paintings of revolutionary heroes from the walls, and declared that from now on, the federal building in downtown Mexico City would be a safe haven for abused women.

Last week’s dramatic takeover was the latest in a series of bold moves by feminist collectives in Mexico that have become increasingly confrontational over the past year.

In a series of protests starting in August 2019, masked protesters degraded national monuments, attacked the attorney general’s office and splashes of blood-red paint on the doors of the National Palace.

Activists say their tactics are justified in a country where an average of 11 women are killed daily and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, and where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and other officials frequently reject their requests for protection.

“We are here to let the whole world know that in Mexico they are killing women and no one is doing anything,” said Yesenia Zamudio, who is still seeking justice for the murder of her 19-year-old daughter. is four years old.

Zamudio, a member of Not One More Woman, a group named after a protest movement that emerged in Argentina about five years ago, helped lead the takeover of the Human Rights Commission building on Thursday. the man.

She has lived there ever since, encamped in cradles with 30 other women and several children.

Gender-based violence activist Yesenia Zamudio, standing next to an image of her 19-year-old daughter, killed in 2016 on suspicion of femicide, throws office supplies out of a window in the National Human Rights Commission building. the man.

(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

Activists transformed the building by covering the facade with anti-police slogans and posters commemorating the women killed or missing. “My friend is not dead,” says each poster. “She was murdered. ”

To hoards of national media posted outside 24 hours a day, activists showed the generous cuts of beef they discovered in office freezers – proof, they say, that officials were living the high life.

Freshly forged portraits of Mexican historical figures are also on display. In one, Francisco Madero, a leader of the Mexican revolution who became president and was later assassinated, appears with green eyeliner, lipstick, and purple hair.

These actions outraged López Obrador, who has so far resisted sending police officers to eliminate the militants.

“Of course, I don’t like it,” he said at a press conference this week. “How could I like to see Madero disfigured?”

He expressed sympathy for the plight of the activists, but said their strategy to seize the building was “the wrong way” to protest.

Activists say the president’s focus on destroying property rather than their demands just proves their point.

“He thinks a painting is more valuable than a woman’s life,” said Erika Martinez, who joined the protest movement three years ago after telling police her 7-year-old daughter was was assaulted by a relative and the authorities refused to act.

She said she realized that extreme acts of protest were the only effective way to bring attention to a cause that feminist activists have championed since the massacre of hundreds of women in the border town of Juarez at the start of the 1990s.

“I spent three years going nowhere,” Martinez said in an interview outside the commission offices, where she lives with her two daughters. “At least the president knows about me now.

In addition to those close to the victims of crime, the protesters include a generation of young student activists driven to action by the inadequate response of institutions and public discourse that they see as anti-feminist.

“They question the effectiveness of politics,” said Daniela Cerva Cerna, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Morelos who has studied the feminist movement on Mexican university campuses. “They are tired of not being heard.”

She referred to the first round of street protests that erupted in August last year, after a teenage girl alleged she was raped by four police officers and officials publicly blamed the victim.

There is a long history of social activists seizing property as a form of protest in Mexico. López Obrador did so in 2006, when he and his supporters blocked Mexico City’s main avenue for months to criticize what he believed to be flawed presidential election results.

Yet not all feminists in Mexico support the actions of Not One More Woman and other collectives that have adopted radical tactics. Some say they fear confrontational approaches won’t bring real change – and may not be worth the backlash they can elicit among more conservative segments of society.

It’s a debate that in many ways mirrors that unfolding in the United States, where many have questioned the effectiveness of protests against police violence.

As in the United States, where a series of recent murders have placed the issue in the national spotlight, several recent acts of violence in Mexico have sparked national outrage.

In February, the kidnapping and murder of a 7 year old girl and the death of a young woman whose husband disembowelled her and skinned her body led to a one-day national women’s strike, in which hundreds of thousands of women remained at home after work and school. It was followed by a massive march in Mexico City that drew support even from conservative politicians.

During this demonstration, on March 8, a contingent of more radical activists broke into businesses, set fire to and damaged monuments. Some of these same women participate in the occupation of the Human Rights Commission building.

Karla Daniela Garcia Tello, a 35-year-old nurse, attended the protests and got to know the most radical feminist collectives that day. She now lives in the office of the Human Rights Commission, deals with the media and helps manage the constant flow of donations arriving from supporters.

The cause is personal, she says. Her husband started abusing her three years ago, shortly after she told him she was pregnant. He beat her, raped her, and once tried to run over her with a car.

She went to the police, but they didn’t help. “He’s your husband,” they told her, hinting that he could treat her however he wanted.

She left him two years ago, fearing that he would kill her. “I didn’t want to be another statistic,” she says.

In her efforts to maintain custody of her son, she lobbied for her ex-partner to be prosecuted. It was a lonely and so far unsuccessful battle. Being with the women at the protest site was transformative, she said.

“I don’t feel alone,” she says. “They are my sisters. “

Women demonstrate on behalf of victims of violence outside the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico City.

Women demonstrate on behalf of victims of violence outside the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico City.

(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

Cecilia Sanchez from the Times Mexico office contributed to this report.

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