The strike of the women architects

One week before the Corona virus forces the first women architects in Mexico into voluntary home office, many of them did not go into the office. Not to stop the spread of a new kind of virus, but to make social injustice visible and to fight against violence against women.

"Don't come to work, don't answer emails or phone calls in a professional context, don't go out, make yourself invisible for a day!" These were the instructions for female architects who took part in the national women's strike under the slogan «a day without us». Like most women in the cities of Mexico, a large part of our profession decided on Monday, March 9 to make a statement: against the increasing attacks on women and the rising number of deeply shocking murders of women. Companies, schools, universities and even government agencies supported the strike participation of women and girls. One day earlier, more than a hundred thousand women had filled the streets to protest for the life and rights of women in this country on International Women's Day. The counters at the metro stations were empty; schools with predominantly female staff had to close: the absence of women was visualized.

Men watching the women's demonstration from a distance in Oaxaca on March 8

A group of well-known female architects also took up the issue and organized a conference in Oaxaca entitled «Protest Act». The seven female architects Frida Escobedo, Gabriela Carrillo, Sol Camacho, Loreta Castro, Tatiana Bilbao, Rozana Montiel and Cristina Verissimo presented their work at the three-day event, and they discussed whether and how architectural or urban planning approaches could reduce violence against women. The representation and working conditions of women in architectural offices were also a topic of discussion. As in many European countries, the proportion of women studying architecture in Mexico has risen to over 50%, but also here, a large proportion of young female architects soon give up their profession, as it is difficult to reconcile it with outside professional commitments and motherhood.

Together and united, the seven women architects appeared to demand a new reality in a country full of injustices. Diversity and female role models were key words. In the course of the event, it became clear that the greatest potential for change lies in questioning the given: both architecture and urban planning are characterised by facts in the floor plan and spatial programme that are socially regarded as "normal" or given. As a well-known and unmistakable example, Tatiana Bilbao cites the kitchen, which still plays a major role in Mexico today in creating gender-specific relationships in living space. According to Bilbao, discrimination begins in the domestic context, where the family is institutionalized. Frida Escobedo points out that to this day, small, isolated housing units with secret passageways for the mostly female housekeeper are still being built in homes of the privileged class. Rozana Montiel emphasizes that in identifiable public spaces appropriated by the community, security for all increases.

Three-day conference of women architects at the Teatro Macedonio Alcala in Oaxaca

It was also «normalized» that in the former jointly managed office of Mauricio Rocha and Gabriela Carrillo, the work was often published under the name of the male office partner. «Women must lose the fear of raising their voices» was therefore Carrillo's call. At the end of the event, a dozen young women rushed onto the stage to make a selfie with their role models. It is the next generation that will hopefully follow in the footsteps of these impressive female architects, full of self-confidence and passion for their profession.


This essay was published on werk, bauen + wohnen.

© LEARNING FROM MEXICO 2019 by Laure Nashed

 Die Beiträge von «learningfrommexico» entstehen in Zusammenarbeit mit der Schweizer Architekturzeitschrift werk, bauen + wohnen.