Home / World / By becoming more radical, Mexican feminists take control of a federal building

By becoming more radical, Mexican feminists take control of a federal building

Dressed in black hoods and armed with spray paint, the women broke into Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission and took over.

They evicted government workers, ripped paintings of revolutionary heroes from the walls and declared that the federal building in downtown Mexico City would henceforth be a refuge for women victims of violence.

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

In a series of demonstrations that began in August 201

9, masked protesters were defaced national monuments, attacked the office of the attorney general 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 every day and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, and where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and other officials often reject their requests for protection. .

“We are here so that the whole world knows that in Mexico they kill women and nobody does anything,” said Yesenia Zamudio, who is still seeking justice for the killing of her 19-year-old daughter four years ago.

Zamudio, a member of Not One More Woman, a group named after a protest movement that emerged in Argentina about five years ago, helped spearhead the takeover of the human rights commission on Thursday.

Since then she has lived there, camping on cots with 30 other women and several children.

Gender-based violence activist Yesenia Zamudio throws documents from a window at the office of Mexico's National Human Rights Commission.

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

(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

Activists have transformed the building, 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 the hordes of 24-hour national news media, activists showed the generous cuts of beef they discovered in office freezers – proof, they say, that public officials were living the good life.

Freshly adulterated portraits of Mexican historical figures are also exhibited. In one, Francisco Madero, a leader of the Mexican revolution who became president and subsequently assassinated, appears in green eyeliner, red lipstick and purple hair.

These actions have outraged López Obrador, who has so far resisted the dispatch of the police to eliminate the activists.

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

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

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

“She 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 that her 7-year-old daughter had been harassed by a relative and authorities refused to act.

She said she came to the conclusion that extreme acts of protest were the only effective means of drawing attention to a lawsuit that feminist activists are pushing after the killing of hundreds of women in the border town of Juarez, which began over the years. ’90.

“I spent three years not going anywhere,” Martinez said in an interview outside the commission’s office, where he lives with his two daughters. “At least the president now knows about my case.”

In addition to relatives of crime victims, the protesters include a generation of young activist students pushed into action by the inadequate response of institutions and public discourse they consider anti-feminist.

“They question the effectiveness of the policy,” 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.”

He pointed to the first round of street protests that erupted in August last year, after a teenager claimed 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 street for months to criticize what he believed were erroneous presidential election results.

However, not all feminists in Mexico support the actions of Not One More Woman and other collectives who have embraced radical tactics. Some say they fear that confrontational approaches will not bring about real change and may not be worth the negative reaction they might provoke among the more conservative segments of society.

It is a debate that in many ways mirrors what is taking place in the United States, where many have questioned the effectiveness of demonstrations against police violence.

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

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

During that protest, on March 8, a contingent of more radical activists broke into companies, set fires and defaced monuments. Some of those same women are involved in the occupation of the Human Rights Commission building.

Karla Daniela Garcia Tello, a 35-year-old nurse, participated in the protests and that day met the most radical feminist collectives. He currently lives in the office of the human rights commission, takes care of the media and helps manage the steady stream of donations from investigators.

The cause is personal, he said. 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 hit her with a car.

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

She left him two years ago, fearing he might kill her. “I didn’t want to be another statistic,” he said.

In her attempt to keep custody of her son, she insisted that her former partner be prosecuted. It has been 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 said. “These are my sisters.”

Women protest on behalf of victims of violence before the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico City.

Women protest on behalf of victims of violence before the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico City.

(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

Cecilia Sanchez of the Times’ Mexico City office contributed to this report.

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