'A day without women' is intended to show what life would be like if women disappeared from society
By Jose Luis Gonzalez and Aislinn Laing
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico/SANTIAGO, Chile, March 9 (Reuters) - L atin American women stayed away from offices, schools and government offices on Monday to join a second day of marches to protest against gender violence, inequality and restricted rights.
Monday's wildcat strike, dubbed "a day without us," is intended to show what life would be like if women vanished from society. It followed a series of massive protests on Sunday to mark International Women's Day.
In the northern Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the U.S. border, factories stood unusually quiet as many women stayed home.
"I don't even want to think if this went on for a prolonged period of time," said Luis Carrillo, a manager at NPD Technology, a firm that makes electronic parts for automatic doors in a city famous for its large number of assembly plants.
"There would be huge losses," he said, adding that the company is proud to support its overwhelmingly female workforce and views the protests as positive.
Early on Monday afternoon, the company's factory floor featured rows of unoccupied tables and desks.
The work stoppages in Mexico also included indigenous Zapatista women in the south and numerous office workers in the capital. Paola Rojas, a female columnist for major daily El Universal, left her space in the newspaper completely blank expect for a hashtag supporting the protest.
In Chile, women wearing medical uniforms, industrial overalls and school uniforms joined a march down a central thoroughfare of Santiago, the capital, to congregate outside President Sebastian Pinera's downtown office.
They banged drums, danced and chanted: "And how, how, how the hell can they torture and rape us and no one does anything?"
Among them was Rosa Ramirez-Rios, an actress in her 70s. Six months ago, she said, many women in the crowd would not have dared to take part.
"I know it's a long process," she said. "We must have patience, persistence, a lot of courage and a lot of desire. The economic and political powers won't give up their privileges easily."
The Mexican capital's usually traffic-choked streets were virtually empty at rush hour on Monday. Public transport was mostly devoid of women, schools were closed and many workplaces were empty.
Molotov cocktails were thrown at the doors of the national palace and women clashed outside its main cathedral with male anti-abortion protesters, some with shaved heads and making Nazi salutes.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had said government employees were free to join the walkout.
According to a poll published late last week by newspaper El Financiero, 67% of Mexicans surveyed said they supported the stoppage, while 57% of women said they planned to join.
Some Mexican women chose to turn up for their jobs, saying work was its own kind of protest, with others saying they could not afford to miss a day.
Cristina Velez, director at Montessori's World, a private school, said she had given teachers the day off and kept the school open with the help of administrative staff.
Protests there are focused on a surge in femicides, or gender-motivated killings of women. These jumped 137% in the past five years, government statistics show, as gang violence pushed the national murder tally to record heights. Most violent crimes in Mexico go unsolved.
"We don't want more violence. They need to punish those who commit crimes," Velez said.
Organizers of Sunday's march in Santiago estimated two million people took part, compared with a police estimate of 150,000, and there were sporadic clashes between marchers and police. (Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in Ciudad Juarez; Josue Gonzalez, Frank Jack Daniel, Diego Ore, Raul Cortes Fernandez in Mexico City, and Aislinn Laing in Santiago; Editing by Dan Grebler and Sonya Hepinstall)
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