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Nationwide Strike Highlights Soaring Violence Against Women In Mexico

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Women throughout Mexico are spending today at home - not at work, not at school, not out and about. Activists called this nationwide strike a day after International Women's Day to draw attention to the soaring number of women murdered in Mexico. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports that the strike, dubbed A Day Without Women, has left much of Mexico City empty.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The best place to gauge if women stayed home today in Mexico City was the capital's sprawling subway system. Police officer Jocelyn Quiroz was amazed at how empty the metro was - well, at least on her side of the tracks.

JOCELYN QUIROZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Quiroz watches over the first four cars on this metro line, which are painted pink, designated solely for women passengers.

QUIROZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She explains that women need their own cars because every day, they face harassment, groping and unwanted attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBWAY DOOR OPENING)

KAHN: While the men were packed in like sardines in their cars, the few women riders said today's trip was stress-free. It was such a relaxing ride that 46-year-old Janet Castillo and her two co-workers had time to chat before heading up the steep stairs to their small food stand to sell tacos and gorditas.

JANET CASTILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: We're going to tell our boss that he should pay us double today since he wouldn't let us take the day off, Castillo jokes. Actually, she and her friends are worried about the economic repercussions of so many women staying home. If they don't have strong sales, the boss docks their pay, they say. According to Mexico's Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce, women make up 40% of the country's workforce. Their absence today could cost the country a billion dollars. That's exactly the point women want to make, says Ileana Lopez, an administrator at a pharmaceutical company. She stayed home and was out walking her to springer spaniels, Lola and Matilda. Her maid usually walks them, but Lopez says she gave her a paid day off, too.

ILEANA LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: This is a very important cause. It's not a game, and it's not a vacation day, she says. Women have to fight for their rights every day.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Men are born with their rights, she says. The situation for women must change, especially as murder rates in general have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2019, nearly 4,000 women were killed. Officials say most were targeted because of their gender, mainly by male relatives.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEYBOARD CLACKING)

KAHN: Some men in Mexico say today's strike has gotten them thinking about machismo in society and their role in making a change.

GONZALO VILLAGOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: On the fifth floor of the Mexico headquarters of L'Oreal, the cosmetics company, there isn't a woman in sight. Gonzalo Villagomez in the accounting department says it's lonely working with just the few men who showed up today. More than 60% of the company's workforce is female. And like L'Oreal, banks and major corporations from Walmart to Sears gave their women employees a paid day off today.

VILLAGOMEZ: It's very important because it's an opportunity to realize how deep is the problem in the world and Mexico.

KAHN: Pablo Sanchez Liste in L'Oreal's corporate headquarters says he's glad big companies are getting involved to raise awareness of gender violence. The Mexican government also gave women a paid day off, but it's unclear what long-term effects today's national strike will have. Yesterday, as tens of thousands of Mexicans took to the streets to mark the Women's Day holiday, three more women were murdered. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY'S "YOUR HAND IN MINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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