Women across Mexico geared up for marches to mark International Women’s Day on Monday, driven by anger that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has backed a politician accused of rape at a time when the country is suffering rampant gender violence.
Activists in recent days have displayed a purple banner declaring “no abuser in power” across Mexico City’s main plaza, renamed streets with women’s names pasted over signs and used purple, green and pink on social media avatars.
At the national palace, where Lopez Obrador resides, protesters painted the names of hundreds of femicide victims across 10-foot-tall (3-meter) metal barriers that were erected last week to protect the historic building from vandalism during Monday’s marches.
Activists also projected feminist slogans in bright lights across the barricaded palace facade, including a message saying “a rapist will not be governor,” effectively turning the riot control measures into a monument against perceived government apathy toward violence against women.
Lopez Obrador has for weeks stood by his party’s candidate in midterm elections in June for governor of Guerrero state, Felix Salgado, describing the calls for him to step down over rape allegations as politically motivated.
Guerrero prosecutors are investigating one accusation of rape against Salgado, after earlier this year dropping a probe into another accusation that they say was filed too long after the alleged crime.
Salgado has denied the allegations, Mexican media have reported.
Lopez Obrador said on Monday that more women are participating in politics than ever before, including nine ministers, and defended his government’s unprecedented move to surround the palace with barriers as a way to discourage violent demonstrations without provoking clashes with riot police.
“There are lots of ways to protest peacefully, like shouting and even insulting,” he told his regular news conference. “But not throwing bombs, not using hammers, not setting fires.”
Thousands of women flocked to the streets a year ago to demand a tougher government response against femicides, with some demonstrators chucking molotov cocktails at the national palace and vandalizing buildings in what were otherwise peaceful protests.