The First Women’s Encounter in Chiapas Gets Started

December 29. A little after nine in the morning, more than a hundred women comrades, including commanders, militia members, bases of support, and Zapatista girls and boys appeared in the La Garrucha Caracol, where women from all different parts of the country and the world awaited them, ready to hear their words and participate in the Third Encounter of the Zapatista Peoples with the Peoples of the World, entitled Commander Ramona and her Zapatistas. To be sure, men were not allowed in the auditorium. Signs posted all around the Caracol stated that men would not be able to participate in concrete jobs as translators, spokesmen, representatives, etc.,

 

that they would only be allowed to help with the cleaning, child care, and food preparation. The plenary sessions are being held just as the compañeras had told us they would be, with presentations responding to questions such as: What did you do to organize yourselves and defend your rights? How do you get organized? How do you struggle with the Zapatista girls and boys?, and also questions about women and the women of the Other Campaign.

 

The first to tell about their history of struggle were the women of the host Caracol, La Garrucha, who introduced their commanders, captains, bases of support, Good Government Council members, health and education promoters, community agents, Zapatista mothers, and Zapatista girls and boys. Grandmother Alina began speaking about how they lived before 1994 and how they live now. Things were so terrible that the girls were forced to be sexually abused before marriage and if their parents put up opposition, they were killed or traded for land. The women weren’t valued at all. As a matter of fact, the midwives charged less to deliver a baby girl than a baby boy. But in the mountains they learned to read, write, speak Castilian, handle arms, and deal with political issues. Then they were trained as militia members and insurgents who declared war on the government on January 1, 1994, presenting 11 demands. “We women were seen as objects, but we woke up and we’ll never let ourselves be abused again,” she concluded. The comrades who are now health promoters said that before 1994, the women suffered a lot and many died from bad health care during childbirth, or from abortions, infections, or even cancer. They never received health information, and when there were emergencies, people died because of a lack of communication and transportation. But now it’s different. Thanks to the support of the civil society, they’ve begun to build clinics and train health promoters, both men and women, who carry out campaigns to give vaccinations, take pap smears, and tend to sexual health. A clinic is now being built that specializes in women’s health. The needs are great, but people keep working. With regards to education, formerly there was no women’s participation, but now there is. The children who gave presentations were Maria Linda and Maria, who said they have the right to study in the autonomous schools, take trips, and have fun. They see their rights as their best weapons for defending their lives. Lastly, they asked that all the women present continue to organize in their neighborhoods and their regions and not let themselves be mistreated because there are more women than men in Mexico and women are in the majority in the world and must organize to defeat the capitalist system.

 

Second on the list of participants were the women from Caracol number IV, Morelia, who said something very significant: “We, without the men, can’t wage a struggle, and the men, without us, can’t wage a struggle either.” They said that it wasn’t easy for them to get organized in their families, communities, and neighborhoods, and also stated that they always give thanks to their warriors, both women and men, who gave their lives so that the women of today can be here now. The compañeras now have a crafts cooperative called “Weaving the Maya Culture.” Their work includes special attention to pregnant women, no matter what organization or party they are from, and preventive and educational programs with regards to food and nutrition to keep the girls and boys from dying of hunger. Other work includes the promotion of responsible fatherhood and motherhood and the preparation of natural personal hygiene products such as shampoo. They also foster the participation of women on the different commissions of the Good Government Councils, recalling that women used to be ashamed to say that there were mistreated, but that now they are working to see that everyone is aware of the real community needs. They stress that the work that they do is not just for the communities, but for the whole world. As for the children’s participation, María said that she is thankful to the struggle, that thanks to it she can be present today instead of dying from hunger. Commander Miriam then spoke of their experience in the second phase of the Other Campaign, in which they learned that women everywhere suffer exploitation and discrimination, but that now it is time for women and men to move ahead together without any discrimination among them. The women concluded by saying: It may sound easy, but we’ve shed many tears to get to where we are now so that one day we’ll be able to win.

 

The day ended with cultural activities and dancing.

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