Seething anger over a rise in deadly violence against women in Mexico spilled into the streets of the nation’s capital on Sunday as tens of thousands of female demonstrators marched to demand that the government do more to protect them.
Protesters smashed windows, broke statues of revolutionary heroes and scrawled graffiti on sidewalks, buildings and public monuments. “You’re killing us,” the graffiti read. “Not one more.”
Police estimated the crowd at 80,000, making it the largest feminist street demonstration in Mexican history.
The march, which was timed to International Women’s Day, coincided with female-led protests around the world.
In some places, marches turned violent as demonstrators clashed with police. In Turkey, where the government has cracked down on all forms of protest in recent years, police used tear gas to break up crowds. In Chile, where a reported 135,000 people took to the streets, police used water cannons to fend off rock-throwing protesters.
The march in Mexico came the day before a planned strike here, in which large numbers of women across the country are expected to stay home from work and school. Some of the country’s largest companies have endorsed the action Monday, giving women the day off.
The recent wave of protests is driven by anger at the sexual harassment that women face on public transportation and in the streets and at discrimination in schools and in the workplace.
Even more, they are fueled by anger at nearly daily reported killings of girls and women, such as the recent case of a 7-year-old who was abducted and tortured, or that of a 25-year-old woman whose husband skinned and disemboweled her.
Feminist activists have been focusing on the issue since the 1990s, when the violent deaths of hundreds of women and girls in the industrial border city of Juarez garnered international attention.
But a recent recorded rise in femicides — a category of homicide in which the victim is female and the circumstances of her killing match criteria including whether the victim bore signs of sexual violence — have brought it to the forefront of national debate.
Even women who did not previously identify as feminists are now joining the cause.
“We’re waking up,” said Silvia Gallegos, 52, who marched alongside a group of friends from college as well as her 16-year-old daughter. “We’ve been living with this culture of machismo our whole lives. If we don’t defend ourselves, who will?”
The protest began near a large monument commemorating the Mexican Revolution and moved east along an avenue lined with blooming jacarandas toward the city’s historic central square. Men who wanted to join were politely but firmly asked to stick to the back.
Many marchers carried handmade signs (“We want to live, not just survive”) or pink crosses that bore the names of female victims of violence. Others clutched bouquets of flowers, as if in a funeral procession.
“Mr. President, don’t be indifferent,” they chanted, referring to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. “They’re killing women in plain sight.”
Teresa Morales, 44, walked arm in arm with her two daughters. She held a pink sign that read: “I march with my girls now so I don’t have to march for them later.”
She said that in her poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City, parents live in constant terror that violence will befall their daughters.
“I’m always tracking their movements on GPS,” she said. “It’s exhausting.”
Although most of the demonstrators only marched and chanted, others took a more destructive turn, defacing monuments, government buildings and private businesses. Masked protesters smashed the windows of a shopping mall, looting a Starbucks of cold beverages, which they tossed out to a cheering crowd, and took hammers to a statue of revolutionary leader Francisco Madero.
They covered downtown Mexico City with slogans painted in pink and purple spray paint. “I was born to fight,” said one. “Kill your rapist,” said another.
Other protesters criticized their actions. “No to violence,” some of them chanted. “They do not represent me.”
Riot police filled the streets, but for the most part did not stop the women.
Lopez Obrador has said he supports the right to protest, even as he has come under criticism from many women here for not taking concrete steps to improve investigations of femicides, which, like most killings here, are overwhelmingly unsolved.
“It’s not women killing women, it’s men killing women, and they are emboldened by Mexico’s culture of impunity,” said María de la Luz Estrada, an activist with a group that tracks femicides.
She marched with several people, who used a loudspeaker to talk about the loved ones they lost.
As a mother tearfully spoke about the death of her daughter, the crowd began to chant: “You are not alone.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for being here.”
Other family members at the march were mourning women who vanished without a trace, presumed victims of violence. They are among more than 60,000 people listed as disappeared in Mexico.
“To this day we don’t have any idea what happened to Aurora,” said Adriana Hernandez, 28, who was among a group of friends and relatives in the plaza trying to draw attention to the case of Aurora Arroyo Almanza, 27.
Arroyo left her home in the city of Irapuato on Aug. 22 and was never seen again. She was married, had a university degree in criminology and was looking for work in that field, said friends and relatives.
They carried a cardboard placard bearing photos of Arroyo, with long black hair, smiling for the camera. “We will keep on looking for you!” read a handwritten declaration on the placard.
“The police haven’t helped us at all to find her,” said Hernandez, echoing a common complaint among friends and relatives of the disappeared. “We want justice for Aurora. There is too much impunity in this country — especially in cases where women are victims.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.