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'A Day Without Us': Mexican women stage protest by absence

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Mexico City (AFP)

Women mostly stayed off Mexico City's streets Monday as part of a protest against the country's soaring rate of gender violence.

The "Day Without Us" strike was staged to highlight the more than 1,000 women and children murdered in Mexico last year.

"This is what a society without women would look like," said Jorge Luna, 21, an employee at a chain of cafes where only male customers and staff were present on Monday.

Few women could be seen walking or driving through the center of the capital, waitresses abandoned cafes and restaurants to their male counterparts and female teachers and office workers for the most part stayed home.

"Parents, be informed that female personnel are joining this national strike by women," read a sign posted outside one school in Mexico City.

Many schools remained shut as a result, while female students boycotted university lectures.

Elsewhere, women who had chosen to work wore a purple ribbon or garment, in solidarity with the nationwide campaign against gender violence

In Mexico City center, a woman cleaned the glass windows of a cafe bearing the sign in support of the strike that read: "We stand with those who make us giants."

The country's biggest daily newspapers featured purple-colored pages. Spaces normally allotted to pieces by women columnists were empty or filled with the phrase: "A day without them."

The morning radio and television news broadcasts featured only male presenters.

Only a third of Mexican bank Banamex locations opened for business, while less than half of all BBVA bank branches were functioning, the El Universal daily reported.

Nurses and other health workers turned up for work as usual at hospitals, but taco sellers working from street kiosks and subway cleaning staff were conspicuous by their absence.

"In some metro stations, men are working and replacing female employees," Jesus Aguilar, head of the city's Zocalo metro station told AFP.

On Eje Central Avenue in the city center, most businesses run by women remained closed.

- 'Conservatism disguised as feminism' -

Women's movements in Mexico have gradually become more vocal in their demands for immediate action to reduce the number of femicides, which grew by 136 percent between 2015 and 2019.

Two brutal murders last month, including that of a seven-year-old girl, highlighted the issue ahead of an International Women's Day march on Sunday attended by 80,000.

When a "no-women day" was first announced, businesses and government agencies were quick to report that women employees who took part in the protest would be paid normally.

"Our system is so patriarchal that when women decide to stop (work), men feel compelled to give us their permission," said Yindira Sandoval, leader of a Mexican feminist association.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador dismissed the women's protests as "conservatism disguised as feminism" and accused his political opponents of trying to destabilize his government by using feminist organizations.

Apart from an end to violence against women, feminist groups are also campaigning for progress in reducing the gender wage gap and an end to workplace harassment.

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