Rebel women - Page 2

A report from the Zapatista Women's Encounter in Chiapas
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Women fighters were martyred in the bloody battle for Ocosingo.

Key to bringing the companeras to the rebel cause was "The Revolutionary Law of Women," officially promulgated that first January 1st from the balcony of the San Cristobal city hall, which decreed that women should have control over their own lives and their bodies. The law, which had been carried into the Indian communities by Comandantas Susana and Ramona, often meeting with hostility from the companeros, was "our toughest battle" Marcos would later note.

Integrating women into the military structure, which was not tied to local community, proved easier than cultivating participation in the civil structure, which was rooted in the life of the villages. Although women occupied five seats on the 19-member Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee (CCRI), the EZLN's General Command, their numbers fell far shorter in 29 autonomous municipal councils and the five Juntas de Buen Gobierno ("Good Government Committees") which administrate Zapatista regional autonomy.

But as the Zapatista social infrastructure grew, women became health and education promoters and leaders in the commissions that planned these campaigns and their profile has improved in the JBGs and autonomias.

Women's Lib a la Zapatista has been boosted by the rebels' prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol in their communities. Whereas many inland Maya towns like San Juan Chamula are saturated in alcohol, with soaring rates of spousal and child abuse, the Zapatista zone has the lowest abuse indicators in the state, according to numbers offered by the womens' commission of the Chiapas state congress. As a state, Chiapas has one of the highest numbers of feminicides in the Mexican union - 1456 women were murdered here between 1993 and 2004, more than doubling Chihuahua (604) in which the notorious muertas of Ciudad Juarez are recorded. The low incidence of violence against women in the zone of Zapatista influence is more remarkable because much of the lowland rebel territory straddles the Guatemalan border, a country where 500 women are murdered each year.

With the men tending the kids and cleaning latrines, the women told their stories in the plenaries. Many of the younger companeras like Evarilda had grown up in the rebellion - which is now in its 24th year (14 on public display) - and spoke of learning to read and write in rebel schools and of their work as social promoters or as teachers or as farmers and mothers. Zapatista grandmothers told of the first years of the rebellion and veteran comandantas like Susana, who spoke movingly of her longtime companera Ramona, "the smallest of the small," recalled how in the war, the men and the women learned to share housekeeping tasks like cooking and washing clothes.

"Many of the companeros still do not want to understand our demands," Comandanta Sandra admonished, "but we cannot struggle against the mal gobierno without them."

The Zapatista companeras' struggle for inclusion and parity with their male counterparts grates against separatist politics that some militant first-world feminists who journeyed to the jungle espouse. Lesbian couples and collectives seemed a substantial faction in the first-world feminist delegations. Although no Zapatista women has publicly come out, the EZLN has been zealous in its inclusion of lesbians and gays and incorporate their struggles in the rainbow of marginalized constitutuencies with whose cause they align themselves.

Sadly, the Encuentro of the Women of the World with the Zapatista Women did not provoke much formal interchange between the rebel companeras and first-world feminists - who were limited to five-minute presentations on the final day of the event.