Opinion

A day without women in Mexico

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on March 09, 2020

Crying out for gender justice   -  Reuters

A day-long strike call against gender-based violence has evoked widespread support. Such protests are needed in India too

I am in Mexico city and watch with fascination, admiration and respect the call given by an alliance of Mexican women’s associations to disappear for a day (on March 9) from public places — offices, public transportation, grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls, etc. This is to protest against the growing culture of violence against women.

Considered a landmark protest since the #MeToo movement, this strike is to highlight the government’s apathy to violence against women in this Latin American nation. Mexico has been witnessing increasing cases of violence against women, including murder and rape.

Recently, a seven-year-old girl’s naked body was found in a polythene bag. The protest, promoted under the hashtag #UnDiaSinNosotras (A Day Without Us), has found overwhelming response and support across the country.

Mexico has an estimated 21 million registered women workers and it has been heartening to watch over the last week government organisations, banks, educational institutions and corporates coming out publicly to support this call given by feminists to Mexican women “to simply disappear for one day”.

Even women who are outside the workforce have said on this one day they will not step outside their homes; “we will become invisible and absent from the streets of Mexico,” is a common sentiment being expressed.

Mexican women had not only enthusiastically joined the #MeToo campaign but also the Chilean protest dance, ‘A rapist in your way’, which is being performed by groups of ordinary women in public squares through Latin America.

Walmart, which has a big presence in Mexico, announced that its over one lakh female employees were free to join this protest.

Like in India

While reading up background material on violence against women in Mexico, a chilling similarity emerged vis-à-vis the situation in India. In one recent gruesome case, a woman was killed and then partially skinned, allegedly by her husband and in her own home.

In India, too, there are many cases where girls/women are subjected to gruesome violence at home, be it through female foeticide, as proved by our falling sex ratio, dowry-related violence, or wife beating.

Here is one chilling statistic from a recent study: 25 per cent of women who are killed breathe their last in their own homes. How many times have we heard women activists/researchers tell in conferences that Indian homes are not a safe place for women. And the violence against them in the home includes sexual abuse by their own family members.

In Mexico, as in India, women complain that the government, police and the justice system are not doing enough to deal effectively with the growing violence against women.

There is rising anger and frustration among the feminist collectives in Mexico against President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “insensitive response” to gender injustice. He has simply dismissed this significant moment in the feminist history of the country of Frida Kahlo as a ploy of his political opponents. The irony is that the present 16-member Cabinet includes seven women!

Heartening response

Up close, from my son’s home in Mexico city, where he heads a team for a technology major, it was so heartening to see the response from his leadership team in the US as he got ready to prepare for the protest, when 70 per cent of his over 100-member team will be missing from work. Support poured in from various heads, saying the company would fully support the Mexican women, and that other teams from other centres and outside Mexico would be happy to assist to prevent any major disruption at work.

Other major corporates across the country have also come out in support of the protest.

But while all this support and cheering are welcome, one earnestly hopes that gender injustice does not end up merely being trumpeted on Twitter, other social media and corporate boardrooms.

Such protests need to be repeated in other countries too, particularly India, where misogyny is no less. If this hard-hitting and timely initiative from Mexican women is not replicated, it would be a shame indeed,

This protest makes the unparalleled sit-in, day after day, by the dadis, nanis and younger women of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, shine like a beacon.

Yes, Maya Angelou, we women are indeed phenomenal!

Published on March 09, 2020

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