Marcela Aleman, Demand Justice on Gender Violence, El Universal

It had all started on September 2, when Marcela Alemán tied her white sneakers’ shoelaces to a chair inside the commission. In a video she shot on her phone, she explained that commission staff had instructed her to file yet another report to begin legal proceedings against the people she accused of sexually abusing her daughter in 2017.

Women protest outside Mexico’s
Women protest outside Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission office, which demonstrators have been occupying. (Rebecca Blackwell / AP Photo)

Mexico’s Women Demand Justice on Gender Violence

Enraged at institutional failure to address the mounting crisis, they have occupied the National Human Rights Commission.

As dusk settled across Mexico City’s historic center, a middle-aged woman standing on the second-story balcony of a graffiti-covered stone building clutched a microphone in one hand and raised a pack of papers with the other. “To hell with your institutions!” she yelled through a white mask covering her mouth and nose, her husky voice cracking from the force of her cry. She tore the papers—government forms she’d been instructed to fill out to push along her sister’s and niece’s missing persons cases, a never-ending bureaucratic nightmare she’d been engulfed in for years, she said—and tossed the shredded pieces like confetti to a roaring crowd of some 200 women dressed in black, packed on the street below. In a falsetto betraying their youth, they chanted, “You are not alone.” They pumped their fists in the air. The ones in balaclavas raised sticks and hammers.

It was September 14, the eve of Mexico’s independence festivities, an event inaugurated each year when the president steps out onto the presidential palace’s balcony and utters el grito—the cry—a reenactment of revolutionary hero Miguel Hidalgo’s call to arms against the Spanish in 1810 (a mythologized moment akin to the American Revolution’s “shot heard round the world”).

Here was the women’s anti-grita. As evening turned to night, mothers of daughters murdered, raped, and disappeared took to the balcony to wail their fury and call out the government for abandoning them. If the government and its institutions would not protect their freedom, they said, they would do it themselves. That’s why they’d seized the building from which they spoke—the National Human Rights Commission—two weeks prior.

It had all started on September 2, when Marcela Alemán tied her white sneakers’ shoelaces to a chair inside the commission. In a video she shot on her phone, she explained that commission staff had instructed her to file yet another report to begin legal proceedings against the people she accused of sexually abusing her daughter in 2017.

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