Students protest gender-based violence in Latin America
To replicate the protests in their home city, students from Mexico City created their own artistic activism on Brandeis' campus.
Content warning: This article discusses instances of violence and sexual assault.
For some, International Women’s Day is a day for the celebration of the social, cultural, and professional achievements of women. Many others, on the other hand, believe that we are not yet at the point of celebration, arguing that with gender inequality and gender-based violence rampant worldwide, celebrations are not what International Women’s Day should be about. In many countries, women take the holiday as an opportunity to fight for their rights and draw awareness to a variety of global issues related to women. Brandeis students from such countries drew inspiration from their communities and brought their own versions of activism to Brandeis’ campus.
Around 90,000 women gathered in the streets of Mexico City this year on International Women’s Day, according to Mexico News Daily, to march in solidarity and protest gender-based violence. The next day, they held a different kind of protest called Un Día Sin Mujeres (A Day Without Women). The aim of this protest is to simulate a world in which women do not exist. Thousands of women and girls stayed home, not just abstaining from work and school, but also refusing to leave their homes for any reason. They stayed out of stores and off the streets, away from social media, and even refrained from making online purchases. Camila Cano ’23, a Brandeis student from Mexico City, spoke to the Justice on March 13, explaining that “the idea [of the protest] is to say: If you keep on killing, if you keep making us disappear, this is what your world will look like.”
Violence against women in Mexico has been on the rise in recent years. According to a 2022 study done by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, 70% of all women ages 15 and older have experienced some kind of violence in their lives, with 49% of women reporting that they have experienced sexual violence. A major issue that protesters in Mexico are focusing on is the sharp increase in femicides, the murder of a woman on account of her gender, typically by a man. Femicides are a subset of homicides; all femicides are included in figures related to female homicides but not all female homicides are considered femicides. The Associated Press writes that on average, 10 women or girls are killed on a daily basis in Mexico. In 2015, 427 of the 2,161 female homicides in Mexico were considered femicides. That figure increased by 135 percent in 2021, with 1,004 of the 3,750 female homicides being classified as femicides, according to data from the Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security).
For Brandeis students from Mexico who spend International Women’s Day on campus, the lack of attention given to International Women’s Day in the United States can be jarring: “Nobody even talks about it here,” Cano said. “So we wanted to do something.” Ana Loza Pérez ’25, who also lives in Mexico City, explained in a March 16 interview with the Justice that “March 8 is a painful day to be far from home, since the narrative on that day is ‘happy’ and ‘celebrating women’ here in the U.S. Why would anyone congratulate me on being a woman when there are so many like me being raped, harassed, abused, and killed every single day around the world?”
Drawing inspiration from the protests taking place across Mexico, Cano and Pérez decided to work together and create their own form of activism on Brandeis’ campus. In the lobby of the Shapiro Campus Center, a vibrant, colorful, tendedero (clothesline) of posters hangs on the wall. Pérez explained that in Mexico, tendederos are an “important art form in the movement”: Activists often use tendederos to publicly denounce perpetrators of sexual assault and violence by writing their names and hanging them on a tendedero for all to see. Pérez and Cano were inspired by this form of activism, but instead of writing the names of perpetrators, they created a tendedero with messages and art that would raise awareness about gender violence in Latin America.
Creating the art for the tendedero was a collaborative effort amongst the Brandeis community, according to Cano, and was a “way to bring the Brandeis community together” in honor of International Women’s Day. The event came together with the help of the Femme of Color Alliance and was part of their International Women’s Day programming. After applying for and receiving money from the Brenda Meehan Social Justice-In-Action Grant, they gathered materials and informational resources. They then dedicated a space for people to come together to create their own posters, surrounded by Mexican feminist art and with feminist music in the background. Pérez added that the space “allowed people to discuss gender violence, machismo, and the seriousness of this situation as they created the art.” The posters displayed on the tendedero in the SCC include many typical slogans from the feminist movement in Mexico, such as la revolution es un acto de amor (the revolution is an act of love) and queremos vivir no sobrevivir (we want to live, not survive).
Living as a woman in Mexico, Cano explained, feels vastly different than in the United States. According to another study from INEGI on urban public safety, 70% of women living in Mexico consider their city to be unsafe to live in. Cano reflected on her upbringing in such an environment: “I grew [up] knowing I could never be out on my own. I cannot walk on the streets, I never take an Uber or a cab on my own, if I go out, there have to be guys with me.” Growing up in this kind of environment, “you learn how to take care of yourself,” Cano said. “You don’t go to places that you know are not safe, you don’t go out at certain times to certain streets or whatever, but you do live with this constant fear. Especially coming here and then going back home, because I don’t have that here, so when I go home, I’m hyper-aware of that.”
The concept of using International Women’s Day as an opportunity to bring attention to injustices towards women is common around the world, making the day one of international protest rather than celebration. Numerous foreign ministers of over two dozen countries commemorated the day by releasing a joint statement criticizing the Taliban’s injustices towards women and publicly denouncing the treatment of women in Afghanistan. In this joint statement, the ministers recognized that these encroachments on women’s rights will create harmful impacts that will “be devastating and irreparable for Afghanistan’s economy and society — effects that will be felt by every Afghan.” Roza Otunbayeva, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general and head of the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan elaborated on these impacts in a statement, as reported by AP, saying that “half the country’s potential doctors, scientists, journalists, and politicians are shut away in their homes, their dreams crushed and their talents confiscated.” On International Women’s Day, 140 activists rallied in Islamabad to protest the Taliban’s rule and demand the international community take action to support women in Afghanistan.
There were protests across many European countries on International Women’s Day as well. AP reports that this year in Spain, which consistently has one of the highest turnouts for Women’s Day, thousands of protesters rallied across the country, invigorated by a new consent law loophole that inadvertently caused the reduction of hundreds of sex offenders’ sentences in Spain. This consent law is officially called the Guarantee of Sexual Freedom Law, also known as the “only yes is yes” law. It allows survivors of sexual assault to assert that they were subjected to abuse, equating the lack of clear consent to having explicit evidence of physical violence or threats. However, The Washington Post describes that this “new crime of sexual aggression — combining elements of abuse and assault — resulted in the automatic widening of both minimum and maximum jail sentences,” and defense lawyers can now use this law to reduce more than 700 sentences and release 74 sex offenders early. The content of this law is a loophole for perpetrators because sexual “abuse” is removed from the penal code and is now “assault.” Sexual violence is now redefined to cover a number of offenses including but not limited to harassment, street stalking, exploitation, forced marriage, and extortion. However, some of these crimes that now fall under sexual violence have shorter sentencing terms than others, providing perpetrators with a means to shorten their sentences because of these re-definitions. Protesters rallied to urge the government to fix this loophole since the law’s outcome is not matching the intent of its passing, but Spain’s congress’s two major parties have been unable to settle on a solution.
On March 7, millions of protesters in France rallied against a new pension system that they deem unjust toward working mothers. An article in Reuters explains that President Macron intends to raise the retirement age by two years — to 64 — in order to ensure that the pension system is making enough money. The same article explains that the president has promised a minimum pension of 1,200 euros — $1,300 — per month after an individual completes a full-time career. However, many working parents are concerned that raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, as well as the number of years a worker needs to pay from 42 to 43 years, will make it more challenging for women to qualify for this pension. Many women are worried that they will have to work longer than men in order to receive the full pension proposed by Macron, as many mothers take months off of work for maternity leave and work part-time to take care of their children. The president has insisted that extending this pay-in period would bring an additional 17.7 billion euros — $19.1 billion — of extra pension contributions, according to Reuters.
The global fight for gender equality and women’s safety has been long and difficult and is far from over. As the fight continues, International Women’s Day will remain a day for women to come together in solidarity and raise awareness about issues worldwide. Brandeis students, especially those from countries that take Women’s Day as an opportunity to protest, will continue to find ways to make their voices heard. FOCA will be hosting another event in honor of Women’s Month on Thursday, March 23, on machismo and marianismo in the ICC Swig Lounge at 8 p.m.. More information and other events for Women’s Month can be found on the Brandeis Campus Calendar.
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