Pioneers in the Defense of Women’s Rights

The recognition that the EZLN movement gives to women’s rights occurred before international organizations such as the UN did so seriously, says researcher Araceli Burguete Cal y Mayor.

SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, Chiapas.- The Zapatista of Army National Liberation (EZLN) advanced with an agenda of knowledge about women’s rights; the women members of the movement themselves had a clandestine political training, but they were visible in the armed uprising, in command positions, and they were reclaiming their rights in the processes of organization and participation.

It was no coincidence that the Zapatista movement sought the presidential candidacy in 2018 of María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, Marichuy, spokesperson for the National Indigenous Congress, who toured part of the country with the task of organizing society from below to dismantle the capitalist system.

Marichuy was chosen for her commitment to the fight against male chauvinism and the reconstitution of communities. In the March of the Color of the Earth in 2002, she spoke in the Zócalo of Mexico City on behalf of the country’s indigenous women, where she made it clear that “the process of comprehensive reconstitution of indigenous peoples is a task that concerns men as much as women, in the same struggle to achieve our full liberation.”

For researcher Araceli Burguete Cal y Mayor, from the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology, CIESAS Sureste, this recognition of women’s rights occurred before the United Nations (UN), the government and international organizations raised it seriously. The specialist in political studies, power, democracy, violence and gender, says that this is a distinctive hallmark of the Zapatista movement, unlike other revolutionary movements in Latin America, such as the Cuban Revolution, that of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, in which there were probably women in their armies, but most of them were not visible.

“The presence of women was visible in the EZLN from the first moment; for example, that iconic photograph of women from the Xoyep community in the municipality of of de Chenalhó, when they confront the soldiers seeking to establish themselves in their territory a few days after the Acteal Massacre”, she says, or when they handed over General Absalón Castellanos Domínguez to the then commissioner for Peace, Manuel Camacho Solís.

“Major Ana María was there with a rifle. Ana María also has great importance in the taking of San Cristóbal de las Casas,” she recalls.

The political construction of the Zapatista women comes from their training in a diocesan coordinator, through which for ten or 20 years the women were working in their communities, they even met as collective therapy, as regards what hurt them, they became aware and formulated what would be the Revolutionary Women’s Law.

After the Zapatista revolt in Chiapas, the law that contained the following essential points became known:

The recognition of women’s rights to participate in the struggle, to work and receive a fair salary; to decide the number of children they can have and care for; to be freely and democratically elected to participate in community affairs; to primary health care and nutrition for them and their children; to education; to choose their partner and not to be forced into arranged marriage; to not be mistreated and violated by family members or strangers; to occupy leadership positions and have military ranks in the revolutionary armed forces, and have all the rights and obligations established by the revolutionary laws and regulations.

“The EZLN incorporates gender equality and the recognition of the rights of women and their organization into its ideological framework, and that meant huge progress, since a third of the members of the organization and half of the support bases were women,” says Burguete Cal y Mayor.

Thus, in 1996, when it sat down with the federal government, the EZLN put the issue of “Women’s Rights” on the table, but this was no longer addressed when the dialogue broke down because the government had not fulfilled the commitment to legislate the first agreements on indigenous rights and culture.

Although the women of the EZLN did not stop, and on October 12th, 1996 in Mexico City, at a meeting of indigenous peoples, Commander Ramona led a panel on the topic of women’s rights, after it was addressed by a group of indigenous activists.

The following year, in another meeting in Oaxaca with Ramona, the National Coordinator of Indigenous Women (CONAMI) was created. “Now even CONAMI itself says: we are Commander Ramona’s seeds,” the researcher points out.

The Zapatista initiatives in this sense were seen by the organization. “One can see it in the Escuelita where women were reflected on and then the International Meeting of Women Who Struggle took place, which unfortunately no longer continued due to the COVID pandemic.”

This agenda of the Zapatistas, she says, has had resonance in local, national and international movements.

Original article published in Proceso at
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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