MEXICO CITY (AP) — Women across Latin America are bathing their city streets in purple on Friday in commemoration of International Women’s Day at a time when gender rights advocates in the region face both historic steps forward and major setbacks.

Following decades of activism and campaigning by feminist groups, access to things like abortion has rapidly expanded in recent years, sitting in stark contrast of mounting restrictions in the United States. Women have increasingly stepped into political roles in the region of 670 million people, with Mexico slated to make history this year by electing its first woman president.

At the same time, activists in Argentina – long the leader of regional feminist movements – have been left reeling with the rise of anarcho-capitalist President Javier Milei. Since taking office in December, Milei has shuttered both the country’s women’s affairs ministry and the national anti-discrimination agency, and on Wednesday told high school students in a speech that “abortion is murder.”

Across Latin America, many countries still suffer from soaring rates of violence against women, including disappearances and murders of women, known as femicides. Just in Mexico, an average of 21 woman have gone missing a day in 2024, according to government figures, a 78% jump from the yearly average in 2023.

While changes in Latin America over the past decade are “undeniably progress,” protests like Friday’s have been led by a new generation of young women that feel tired of the sharp contrasts that continue to permeate their historically “macho” nations, said Jennifer Piscopo, professor Gender and Politics at Royal Holloway University of London.

“They’re growing up in countries where on paper Latin American women’s lives look like they should be fairly well-treated, but that’s not their experience on the ground. So they’re angry,” said Piscopo, who has studied Latin America for decades.

“We see this sort of taking to the streets by feminists to criticize the inequality they’re experiencing that seems out of sync with where they think their country should be,” she added.

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