Mothers of murdered girls and women and members of feminist collectives have turned a metal barrier erected around the National Palace in Mexico City into a memorial for femicide victims.
The names of thousands of victims of femicide are now painted across the three-meter-high barrier, which went up Friday in anticipation of Monday’s International Women’s Day march. It was quickly denounced by critics as a “a macho wall of shame.”
Activists added to the memorial by laying flowers, crosses and candles in front of the metal fence. One poster left next to the barrier read: “For those who hugged their mom without knowing that it was going to be the last embrace.”
The memorial-cum-protest was augmented on Sunday night by the projection of messages such as “Femicidal Mexico” and “Legal Abortion Now” onto the facade of the National Palace.
President López Obrador defended the metal barrier on the weekend, saying it was installed not because of fear but rather to avoid “provocation” and prevent confrontation and damage to historic monuments. The president’s office issued a statement calling the barrier “a wall of peace.”
(Acts of vandalism and violence committed by a minority of protesters have marred recent women’s marches, including the one on International Women’s Day in 2020.)
The National Feminist Collective charged that the government has taken more action to protect the National Palace – the seat of executive power and López Obrador’s residence – than it has to protect women from violent crime.
Activists who participated in the transformation of the barrier into a memorial told the newspaper El Universal on Sunday that there have been so many femicide victims in Mexico that “there are not enough walls to name them all.”
Reading the names of those who appear on the “wall,” and contemplating the extreme violence they suffered at the end of their lives, was a harrowing and infuriating experience for many women.
“It pains me to know that I could be one of them, that any woman I know could be here. … It makes me angry and it hurts a lot. It’s very sad,” said 21-year-old Verónica Cifuentes.
“I’ve seen [my name] Verónica, the [same] names as those of my friends and family members. It’s so real, you know that you could be there,” she told El Universal.
The mothers of three femicide victims who spoke to the newspaper Reforma said that the “wall of shame” minimizes their demands for justice.
Lorena Gutiérrez said the wall is a sign of the federal government’s indifference toward the “collateral victims of femicide,” adding that the barrier is a metaphor for its intention to turn its back on women’s calls for justice.
“What they’re doing and showing to the world with this barrier is a vile act; it’s a wall of shame, simulation, indolence, corruption, ineptitude and impunity,” she said.
Gutiérrez said that in the case of her daughter, who at the age of 12 was raped and murdered by three young men, there has been little justice since the crimes were committed in 2015. One of the men is is jail but the other two are free. Gutiérrez expressed doubt that they would ever be brought to justice.
Irinea Buendía, whose lawyer daughter was murdered by her policeman husband – who was convicted after a legal battle that lasted more than 10 years – told Reforma that with the erection of the barrier, President López Obrador is sending a message that he has no concern for femicide victims and their families.
“It tells us that he doesn’t see us or hear us, we practically don’t exist for him because he says that women are better attended to now than at any other time but the discourse leaves much to be desired because that’s all it is – discourse,” she said.
“… He always has other information [to deflect criticism] and now it culminates with this fence, … we realize that he doesn’t want to take a position against violence toward women, he doesn’t want to … prevent, punish and eradicate [crime against women],” Buendía said.
Soledad Jarquín, whose daughter was also murdered, said it was regrettable that the government has responded to women’s legitimate calls for justice with a wall.
“What a shame that Andrés Manuel López Obrador is responding to us in this way,” she said.
“… What we want is for them [the government] to solve the cases, for there to be justice in the cases of our daughters. And this is not the first barrier that they’ve put in front of us,” Jarquín said.
López Obrador on Sunday once again addressed the installation of the metal barrier and the subsequent criticism in a video message posted to social media.
“We’re never going to repress the people; … it’s better to install a fence than to put the riot police in front of the women who are going to protest, as was the case before. We have to avoid violence, avoid anyone being harmed or injured,” he said.
“I’m a humanist and I’m not against feminism. I’m against corruption and manipulation, I’m against authoritarianism and hypocrisy,” the president added.
López Obrador repeated a claim he has previously made that conservatives – a word he uses broadly to describe those who oppose him and his government – infiltrate women’s marches and cause violence.
“Imagine allowing them to vandalize the National Palace because that’s what they want – a scandal. … We installed this fence to protect the palace,” he said.
The president said that he supports the right to peaceful protest before calling on people not to succumb to violence.
“These provocateurs are very authoritarian and I’m going to say it – the conservatives are fascists. [They’re like] Hitler, Franco, Pinochet, that’s the way they think. What’s that got to do with feminism? On the contrary, that’s the opposite of the feminist movement,” he said.
“I’m not sexist, I’m in favor of the rights of women, I’m in favor of equality, I always have been. When in the history of Mexico was there a female interior minister? For the first time the interior minister is a women, for the first time a woman is public security minister, for the first time in history half of the cabinet are men and half are women. … Now half of the legislators in Congress are women – that’s because of our fight and we’re always going to respect men and women and above all we’re always going to fight for equality.”