© Voces mesoamericanas
IN FOCUS: Migration and gender – Women who migrate, women who stay, women in search of their relatives, women who help
Seminario “El Pensamiento Crítico frente a la Hidra Capitalista”, mayo de 2015 © SIPAZ
ARTICLE: Seedlings within the Storm: The EZLN organizes the Seminar on “Critical Thought versus the Capitalist Hydra”

SIPAZ: 20 years accompanying lights of hope

Marcha del Día Internacional de la Mujer, 8 de marzo de 2015 © SIPAZ

In November 2015, SIPAZ will celebrate 20 years of presence in Mexico, and we believe we have much to share regarding what we have learned on this journey. Some of the key lessons have had to do with moments of hope and joy, with others being difficult and painful. We take this anniversary as a special occasion on which to reflect not on our own history, but rather on the social processes that we have accompanied in Chiapas (since 1995), as well as in Oaxaca and Guerrero (since 2006).

First advance: The situation, heart, and collective action of women in Chiapas, 20 years on

Marcha del Día Internacional de la Mujer, 8 de marzo de 2015 © SIPAZ

March for the International Women’s Day, March 8, 2015 © SIPAZ

Juan Pablo Lederach, an expert in the positive transformation of conflicts and peace-building, often says that an equal amount of time is required to leave behind a situation of war and conflict—equal in time, that is, to the duration of the cause of said conflict. If we take a look at gender violence, we can appreciate that the changes that are needed to invert these trends will be long term. From the theory of social change, an entire generation (20 years) is often considered to be an adequate time by which to measure advances and regressions.

In preparation for the twentieth anniversary of SIPAZ, a broad process of systematization is being carried out. We wish to assure that the voices of, and collective actions taken by, women during this period are not ignored. To ensure this, we initiated a series of interviews that will allow us to obtain perspectives and testimonies to be reflected in a book that will be presented at our anniversary.

Next, we wish to share the voices that we have brought together. As a point of departure which reflects the situation in 1995, we use one of the testimonies published in the book Chiapas: What of the Women? in which a woman explains that “In the majority of communities, women’s voices have no place, just as in the mestizo world. These two spaces have denied us the right to live with dignity. In indigenous families the women are always women; childhood for us do not exist, and from birth we begin to age, carrying our brothers and sisters, crushing maize, feeding the chickens, learning of the sadness of our mothers, and developing our own sadnesses, as even the youngest boy of the home has the right to command and determine our lives. The beatings, insults, sexual abuse, abandonment, and fear are fundamental to our spaces as women. These deprive us of our capacity for loving, because we cannot express love, since many of us have our husbands determined for us. Beyond doing indispensable domestic work, we, women go to the milpa and work alongside the men, but at the end of our work-day, no one serves us food, nor does anyone value or respect our work, and no one trusts our ability to decide for ourselves, because even to buy soap we have to ask permission, and if the men of the house drink, everything worsens, including poverty. In the community, even the elderly women say that these things are customary, and the authorities do nothing when we complain. On the contrary, they scold us and always decide in favor of the man, even when he nearly kills you […]. In the mestizo world, matters are also difficult; the majority of men and women see us badly and consider us to be ‘dirty Indians.’ They make us work from dawn to dusk and never pay us justly. In the hospital the doctors and nurses look at us with disgust; they demand that we disrobe, and they have no respect for our shame […]. In the stores, they attend to us last, even though our money has the same value. It is useless to complain because for the officials, we indigenous women do not exist. Beyond the fact that we face discrimination, very few of us have documents, even ones that would prove that we are people.”

Marcha del Día Internacional de la Mujer, 8 de marzo de 2015 © SIPAZ

March for the International Women’s Day, March 8, 2015 © SIPAZ

20 years later, the fruits of the testimonies is not exempt from contradictions:

  • “Now I feel a bit important.”
  • “I could play as a girl, but my mom could not.”
  • “These are not just public changes, but everyday changes. Women get married later and have more space between their children. Women’s collective work allows the community, authorities, and women themselves to be more highly esteemed.”
  • “The ‘private’ has become public. Domestic violence is increasingly out in the open. The rights of women have progressed, though paradoxically, women experience more violence than ever before.”
  • “There aren’t that many changes. Men continue to beat us physically, verbally, and economically.”

Some readings and testimonies point to the role of the State in these changes, though it would seem to be more a part of the problem than the solution:

  • “Campesina and indigenous women now are now longer the same. The situations they face and their relationships are not the same as 20 years ago. The effects of the global market and the public policies have alleviated neither women’s poverty nor their subordinated gender position, but they have deepened women’s dependency and transformed their ways of life, identities, and cultures. Above all, these effects have accentuated their social exclusion.” (Structural subordination of gender, The marginalized women of Chiapas amidst the crisis, 2011)
  • “The institutions reproduce the very violence they seek to respond to. Cases are attended to, but they will never stop. Nothing is solved at the roots. Though the institutions have not promoted substantial changes, at least a problem that previously was not seen is now made more visible.”

Similarly, many of the collected testimonies indicate that what has happened in Chiapas during the past 20 years has encouraged reflection on feminism: “Zapatista women challenge the ‘center’ feminism. The concerns that mestiza women have in terms of abortion or bodies do not resonate much in the communities of Chiapas. They do not concern themselves with abortion, but rather with assuring that their children be born and grow. The women’s movement in Chiapas has contributed to feminism at the national level by insisting on a theory that is built through the participants themselves. Feminism in Chiapas challenges the dressed-up theories you propose.”

“As a grown-up I wished to be a marine biologist,” an adolescent tells us. “I wished to be a congressional deputy and help my people,” said another. These are dreams and plans that their mothers surely did not have at the same age. Many changes have taken place, and not just minor ones. Some of these have been for good; others for bad. We trust that this first essay will serve as a preview of the publication that is being put together in these months.