“It Was Civil War”: Photographing Women’s Rights Protests in Mexico | Mexico

ohn March 8, 2021, women around the world took part in protests to mark International Women’s Day. In Mexico, the annual event is even more poignant, as at least 10 women are murdered every day in the country; in 2021, the date was marred by further violence.

As day approached, fences were erected around the National Palace in Mexico City’s main plaza, where thousands of women were to congregate.

“There was this rise in tension,” says Mahé Elipe, a French photographer living in Mexico City. “Mexican politicians [have given the impression that they] do not care about women’s rights. During the pandemic, cases of domestic violence increased as the government prioritized the economy. So many women were without any help.

Mariel Velázquez, 23, a student and women’s rights activist, who was in the protesting crowd on March 8, saw the fences as a direct affront and rejection of the feminist cause. “There was a metal wall,” she said. “We were crazy when we saw this. Symbolically, it was a wall between our authorities and us. It’s like they don’t want to listen to us or hear anything about the protest.

As the women and children gathered in the plaza, they laid flowers, sang, shouted and chanted slogans, and wrote the names of murdered women on the fences. In 2020, Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women. About 940 of these murders were investigated as femicides, but the issue has been played down by Mexican authorities. Last year, the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said the topic of femicide had been “heavily manipulated in the media”.

Violence broke out and clashes broke out between demonstrators and the police. “The police were really violent,” says Velázquez. “They started shooting at us with rubber bullets. In my head I was like ‘I’m going to die’ because it sounded like a real gun. Mentally, it was a shock to me. I felt pain in my back. They shot me from within a yard.

She adds: “I shouted at the police, ‘Stop! Why do you do that?’ Their response was tear gas. They threw it at me about fifteen times.

The activists tried to demolish the metal fences with hammers and wooden sticks. It was in the midst of this chaos that Elipe took the photo of the unidentified woman in black wearing dark glasses and a face mask with Neither una mas (not one more) written on it.

“It was a while. I had the impression, without romanticism, that it was a civil war, ”she says. “There was such tremendous chaos; women were screaming everywhere, people were throwing tear gas, no one could breathe. The police threw bottles of piss at us. I was just there with my camera to take pictures.

“This woman in front of me was calling out to the others, shouting, ‘They’re killing us!'”

More than 80 people were injured in the clashes. Velázquez walked home and arrived around 9 p.m. Her mother saw her and was shocked. “I had scars all over and the tear gas had hit my eyes. I was covered with earth, ”says Velázquez. She is not sure she wants to continue demonstrating. “It has become really dangerous. It’s one thing to protest, it’s another to expose your life to [danger]. “

It was also a very emotional day for Elipe, whose work often focuses on women’s rights. “There were so many emotions that day. I cried. I can’t talk about it now without getting goosebumps.

She adds: “I see something so beautiful in the idea of ​​solidarity, in these women who come together and continue the fight … There is an incredible force to see what they do, the danger they put themselves. . They are young women – they give me hope for the future.

She and Velázquez both believe that women’s rights in Mexico are neglected by the government and do not receive enough attention. But, says Elipe: “Talking about it, exposing what’s going on, putting the problem on the table – it’s worth its weight in gold.

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