MEXICO CITY - Protests against gender violence in Mexico have intensified in recent years amid an increase in killings of women and girls. The killings are often accompanied by sexual assault and sometimes grisly mutilations. Women are expected to express their outrage in a march in Mexico City on Sunday, International Women's Day. Smaller demonstrations will be held across the country. Women and girls also plan to hold protests on Monday. Mexican women are being urged to skip school, shun housework and stay home from work to show the country what it's like to go one day without them.
Why are they marching?
Government statistics show that more than 10 females are slain on average every day in Mexico, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for girls and women. As recently as 2017, an average of seven women were killed each day in Mexico.
"The context of violence against women and against girls in Mexico is especially grave," said Nira Cardenas, coordinator of the gender unit at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico.
In addition to half the population being at high risk of violence, impunity is a major problem. Few reported crimes in Mexico result in convictions.
Participation in the annual march on Sunday is expected to be higher than during previous marches as a broader swath of society joins the families of the killed and missing who frequently take to the streets, accompanied by feminists and activists.
Who are the victims?
A series of recent, highly publicized killings in Mexico has led to more debate and calls for protests against gender violence.
The ex-wife of an influential technology entrepreneur was shot to death in November after testifying in a child custody case. A young woman was skinned and disemboweled, allegedly by her boyfriend, in February. Days later, a 7-year-old was kidnapped outside her elementary school and sexually abused; the child's lifeless body was disposed of in a plastic bag found in an empty lot.
The victims shared a history of abuse in their households, and failings by Mexican authorities.
A contingent of mothers of victims will march together Sunday in a show of sorority and tears.
"We want to give a hug not just to those who are no longer physically here with us, but also to each and all of those women who will soon become part of our family [of victims]," said Araceli Osorio, mother of Lesvy Berlin, who was strangled to death by a boyfriend on the campus of Latin America's largest university in 2017.
What is Mexico doing about the problem?
Mexico has aggressive legislation for punishing violent crimes against women. The deficit comes in the application of the law.
"Mexico is the country of rights on paper," said Ana Pecova, director of advocacy group EQUIS Justice for Women.
Since 2011, killings of Mexican women that carry signs of hatred for the gender, such as mutilation, have come with a stiffer minimum sentence than regular homicides.
Congress increased the femicide sentence again in February, to 65 years, and passed a constitutional amendment last year that allows for preventive detention for those accused of domestic violence for a second time. The majority of women killed in Mexico are targeted by their own partners.
Authorities often lack the tools, motivation and capability to investigate crimes, leading family members of victims to pursue the cases themselves. Several mothers complain that their missing girls were initially dismissed as runaways and their killings wrongly ruled suicides.
Some protests become rowdy. Why?
A women's protest in February became rowdy, following a pattern of street outrage in the past. A masked protester tried to set fire to a wooden door of the presidential palace while others drenched it with red paint.
Destruction of public property has become a mainstay of feminist protests in Mexico City since a small group trashed a bus station, police precinct and a major monument in August in disgust over the city's bungling of an alleged rape by police of a teenager.
The vandalism drew heavy criticism. The vandals argue that women are more important than statues or broken windows, which can be repaired. A woman whose life is cut short by violence never returns, they say.
"We ask ourselves all the time: What else can we do?" said Cardenas.
The grassroots movement for a nationwide strike by women on Monday was inspired in part by similar actions in countries such as Argentina and Chile.
"We have to say: Enough already," said Maria de la Luz Estrada, coordinator of the National Citizens Observatory of Femicide. "We're calling for the rule of law to work. They have to guarantee the integrity of the lives of every male and female."
Major banks, media companies and law firms have joined the call for women to become "invisible" for a day. The Coparmex business group encouraged its more than 36,000 members across the country to take part, estimating the one-day work stoppage would cost the economy hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Education Ministry issued a last-minute endorsement of the initiative, cognizant that schools depend heavily on female personnel.
Participants hope the national dialogue will spur change. Households where men share the chores, they note, have lower incidences of domestic abuse. Prevention is key, but so are consequences. Authorities need more funding to investigate cases, and instruction on how to do so in a timely and empathetic manner.