By Ana Isabel Martinez
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Activist Arussi Unda knew many across Mexico shared her fury over violence against women and impunity for the perpetrators, but she was still surprised when her vision of women staging a national one-day strike took off beyond her home state.
In many towns and cities, women next Monday will skip school, work and other activities to show how public life looks without them, delivering a critique of the violence that has led to a surge in femicides, or gender-motivated killings of women.
“It’s like a Cinderella story,” Unda told Reuters, marveling at how her obscure 15-member feminist collective Brujas del Mar (“Witches of the Sea”) had suddenly been thrust into the national spotlight by the protest it helped inspire.
“This is like the lost village, the tiny collective, the nobody women … but sooner or later, it was going to happen,” said Unda, whose group in the eastern state of Veracruz lives off its own funds, plus sales of bandannas and key chains.
Femicides in Mexico jumped 137% in the past five years, according to Mexican government statistics, as gang violence pushed the national murder tally to record heights. Most violent crimes go unsolved.
In Veracruz, one of the main battlegrounds of warring drug cartels, femicides leapt almost 300% to 159 in 2019, fueling the indignation of women’s advocacy groups.
“Women in Mexico are fed up,” said Unda, 32, the spokeswoman for Brujas del Mar, which became known in Mexico late last year for its advocacy of abortion rights.
“It’s not just the obvious crisis of femicides in Mexico but also what happens every day at home, at school, at work. There’s no place that is safe for us.”
Notorious cases including the recent kidnapping and killing of a young girl, and the newspaper publication of photos of a 25-year-old woman’s mutilated corpse, have pushed the strike known as “a day without us” to the center of national politics.
Support for next Monday’s protest, one day after International Women’s Day, has cut across a swath of society from companies and universities right up to government ministries.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said government employees are free to join the walkout. But he has also accused political opponents of seeking to exploit the country’s security problems to undermine his administration.
Unda dismissed his comments as a macho and condescending attitude toward the organizers.
“So, we’re stupid, or what?” she said.
(Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Additional reporting by Tamara Corro; Writing by Anthony Esposito and Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Dave Graham and Peter Cooney)