“If there is to be a [future], it will be made with the women, and above all, by them.”
-----Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, March 8, 1996
The core changes in the communal life of indigenous Mayan women were introduced by the Revolutionary Women’s Law, which was passed by the EZLN in 1993. Some in the USA had a difficult time exactly figuring out what to make of that law. In her essay "Revolutionary Zapatista Women in Cultural Perspective," Lea Clayton writes,
It is clear that the law passed in 1993 contained some demands which were universal and some of which were addressing specific issues related to women in Chiapas. Some demands were as basic as the right to an education and healthcare, while others were as momentous as the right to freedom from sexual and domestic violence. The law made it clear that women had the right to reproductive autonomy, political participation equal to that of men, equal pay, education, and freedom from domestic violence.
Guadalupe Cárdenas, of the Mercedes Oliveira Feminist Collective (COFEMO) of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, told Latinamerica Press,
Historically the condition of the indigenous population in Chiapas has been one of exclusion, and the women have lived under a triple oppression: [they are] women, poor, and indigenous. Their political participation has always been rendered invisible, but with the Women’s Revolutionary Law this changed; they started going to rallies, taking the microphone and speaking, holding political office. There was a great change in attitude in Chiapas — even outside of the Zapatista movement — and men began to value women, at least in word; it is no longer politically correct to exclude the participation of women.
One doesn't change hundreds of years of culture, discrimination, colonialization and oppression overnight. It’s impossible that just by decree the ingrained practices of a community’s culture and conscience suddenly are obliterated.
There is still a really big distance between the intention of actually being better, and really respecting the other – in this case women – and what our realistic practice is.--------Subcomandante Marcos, March 8, 1996
He was right, you know. He was right then and he would be right if he said the same thing today. The struggle to increase women's participation in the EZLN is still going on. There has been resistance from men and their has been hundreds of years of internalization pounded into women. It isn't easy. For example, it still seems to many that women largely bear responsibility for domestic affairs and child-rearing within the dominant sexual division of labor which prevails in Zapatista communities. Still virtually everyone agrees that throughout Mexico (and most of the world) it is impossible note that nowhere do women seem to experience the type of participation within political life that they do within the EZLN.
But the Zapatistas themselves know that is not enough.
An article in the Latin America Press points out,
The Zapatistas themselves, in booklets about the participation of women in the autonomous government that were published in Aug. 2013, noted that in the last 20 years, there has been great progress in their communities, yet gender equality still hasn’t been achieved. According to the booklets, which were part of the course “Freedom according to the Zapatistas” that was conducted within the so-called Escuelita Zapatista, or Little Zapatista School — a week-long course in which each participant lived for a week with a host family in a community engaged in resistance —, the difficulty in accepting that female Zapatistas can hold political office comes as much from men as it does from women, because of an upbringing that doesn’t teach women they have rights.
All that said, Marta Lamas points out at Dorset Chiapas Solidarity,
Having a feminist consciousness does not require knowing feminist theory; it only requires understanding that subordination or discrimination for being a woman implicates an injustice. With that dose of awareness, many of the indigenous women developed a notable sense of justice that found fertile ground in the egalitarian discourse of the EZLN. The radical turn by the Zapatistas had spectacular results, as recorded by Guiomar Rovira (Mujeres de maíz/Women of Corn/Era): men learning to make beans while women were learning to read; militants serving breakfast to their female leaders; soldiers obeying female captains; fair maintenance duties; marriages of mutual agreement, and divorces as well; all of that around the egalitarian ideal that “everything be even.”
After the spread of the Women’s Revolutionary Law and the subsequent public appearances of various leaders (such as Ramona, Trini and Esther), the symbolic strength of Zapatismo made an impression on women in other indigenous villages. Throughout these 20 years, the Zapatista women have been a role model for indigenous women in various states that are vindicating their specific demands as women.
The Zapatista version of revolution is not something that just happens one day, it is something that is happening everyday without end.
I believe the Zapatista women are learning to resist from within the resistance, [where] they are clandestine within the clandestine. They learned the way of resistance to neoliberalism, so they can take up the path of resistance to the patriarchy. In fact, they are already doing so. They disagree with many things in their organization and their culture, and they are changing them. It’s slow but they are taking charge of the changes they need.
The following is for theoretical Monday's at Scission is from Open Democracy.
A further note: I would keep in mind that even if the Zapatistas don't themselves, for now, answer the question, if they don't solve the problem today and defeat patriarchy, they do raise the question, they make it part of the worldwide discourse, they strongly inject it into what the alternative new world would be all about. It becomes, as last week's contribution to the theoretical implied, a part of the revolutionary imagination of the multitude, of all of us. That counts for something.
The Zapatista Women’s Revolutionary Law as it is lived today
– The Participation of Women in the Autonomous Government[i]