The work continues at the First Women’s Encounter in Chiapas

December 30. Very early in the morning we heard the voices of the Zapatista compañeras calling on all of us to keep up the work at the Encounter. The next to speak were the comrades from Caracol I “La Realidad.” The grandmothers told us a little about how they lived before the “war,” as they call it. They spoke in their own language, and what they said was translated by other women:

“When the 7 comrades got here, they told us that we should get organized.” The main role the women played for the first ten years was preparing food for the insurgents, always at night because everything was clandestine. They also told about how they were repressed under their old masters—receiving blows for any little thing, being forced to work for more than 12 hours, even when they were pregnant and 5 days after giving birth, and about the problems they had in the communities due to the consumption of alcohol.

Now everything’s changed. The husbands take care of the children when the compañeras go to regional meetings. They take care of each other when someone’s sick or gives birth. They celebrate important days like International Women’s Day on March 8. “We invite all women to get organized so that all together we can put an end to neoliberalism.” “We’re struggling for life because we don’t want to die of hunger,” said one comrade. One of their projects is to recover traditional medicine, training people in the use of herbs and in setting bones. They now have a botanical laboratory. Their dynamic is to train one person so that this person, in turn, can train other people. For them, medicine is not a business. With regards to education, they told us that the kind of education they have is not capitalist. They have levels instead of grades, and they teach their true culture, their true history, not one that’s invented. Their dream right now is to build an autonomous university whose graduates will be true servants of the people and not servants of the powerful because they believe that young men and women are the future of the world. Up until now more than 2000 students have attended their autonomous Zapatista schools.

They also develop work plans and participate in different work commissioned by the community, including taking care of the natural resources and planting fruits and vegetables that can grow in the jungle. They help out when there are problems within the community whether the people involved belong to the PRI party or not, because everyone is poor and has problems of family violence. “We teach our boys and girls to respect their elders, but also their peers, and to accept responsibilities and work conscientiously,” said one Zapatista mother. “Now there are a hell of a lot of us and there’ll be more. As women, we must have the courage to take up arms if necessary,” said one comrade, who expressed her concern about the large numbers of military bases on the outskirts of the communities. Lastly, they asked the women in the Other Campaign to keep struggling to free our women political prisoners, to whom they read a message telling them that they are not alone and asking them to have the strength to keep on resisting.

 

Next came the compañeras from Caracol II “Oventik,” who spoke of how for years they’d never been recognized as original peoples and were forgotten by all the bad governments that wanted to do away with them. They suffered tremendously when their husbands got drunk and sometimes beat them. They thought they had to keep quiet and obey, up until the time that the women and men together decided to declare war on the government. In 1997 they began to form women’s cooperatives, trying to commercialize their products, in this case crafts, at a fair price. They view health as an important part of their life and said that construction was begun on their first clinic in San Andres de los Pobres in 1998 and that now they have their own micro-clinic, where they educate women about pre-natal care and sexual health. The education promoters said that they don’t continue with the education of the bad government, which only individualizes people. “We don’t allow them to treat us like objects.” “Struggle is the way to live,” concluded the compañera. They said that since they’ve joined in the work of the Good Government Councils, they have to be aware of the problems that exist in the communities. They’re learning how to use computers to make their work easier. They believe that it’s impossible to speak of a government of the people without women’s participation. Now they’re recognized, not as much as they’d like to be, but the first thing they teach their children is to try to understand the situation they live in, and they tell the girls that they, too, must participate and speak up. And they called on all the women not to get disheartened and to keep hoping for victory. Lastly, the commanders who had the chance to travel around to different states in the country talked about how women suffer everywhere, whether they live in the big cities or in the country, or  in indigenous communities or whether they’re women workers, farmers, or housewives, or women who get sick because of working in polluted workplaces at very low wages with long work days.  “But we learned a lot from these women who live differently than we do.” “We’re clear that we have a long way to go in winning women’s participation in different jobs.”

 

During one of the rest periods today we watched a play put on by the Zapatista compañeras that presented the birth of their struggle and the participation of the civil society in it. At the end of the plenary session, we enjoyed different cultural activities, including the presentation of a documentary by some of the women from Vía Campesina. The main difference is that today there wasn’t a dance.

 

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