Words of Commandante Ester at Milpa Alta

Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN
Translated by irlandesa

March 8
International Day of the Rebel Woman

Today, March 8, 2001, the international day of rebel women, zapatista women, through three of their Comandantas who are members of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee - and who are all part of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation delegation which is reaching the gates of Mexico City today - say their word:

Comandanta Esther

"To women throughout the country, we are saying let us fight together. We have to fight more because as indigenous we are triply looked down upon: as indigenous women, as women and as poor women. But women who are not indigenous also suffer. That is why we are inviting all of them to fight, so that we will not continue suffering. It's not true that women don't know, that they're not good for anything except being in the home. That doesn't happen only in the indigenous communities, but also in the cities .

When I was a little girl I was hungry and sick. Even though we didn't eat well, here we are. We go on.

I didn't know how to speak in Spanish. I went to school, but I didn't learn anything there. But when I entered the organization (EZLN) I learned to write and to speak Spanish, the little bit that I know, I'm engaged in the struggle.

Once I grew up I began to see that we didn't have adequate food, that others did, and we didn't. Why didn't we? I saw that I had 4 or 5 little brothers and sisters who had died, that's when I realized, why were my little brothers and sisters dying? I saw that it was necessary to fight, because if I didn't do anything, other brothers would keep on dying, and I decided. And not only me, there are women who decided to be soldiers, and those women now have the insurgent rank of captain, of major, of lieutenant. That's how we saw that women can indeed be strong

In the beginning, I had to pay a price for the truth. The men didn't understand, even though I always explained to them that it was necessary to fight so that we wouldn't always be dying of hunger. The men didn't like the idea. According to them, women were only good for having children, and they should take care of them...

And there are also some women who have that idea in their heads. Then I didn't like them. Some men said it wasn't good, that women didn't have the right to participate, that women are stupid. Some compa~eras said "I'm stupid." I always confronted that. I explained to them that it wasn't true, that we are women, but we can do other work. Little by little the men began to understand, and the women also. That's why women are fighting now. That's why you know that in our fight it's not just the men who are fighting here, we're fighting together.

Since the war began, the bad government has been putting the armies in, but the ones who have had to confront that problem are the women. The militarization has been very hard, but the women haven't been afraid. They've gone out to run the soldiers off. And so we've seen that women do have strength, not with weapons but with strength and with shouts, we see that we can be strong as women.

The truth is we have resisted, even though it's been years since the war began. Despite the suffering, we are still here. If we hadn't resisted, we wouldn't still be here. Even though a lot has happened to us, in spite of that, we haven't surrendered. We've been strong.

As zapatista women we've made a little progress. We saw that we didn't have anything, and we ourselves asked ourselves: who's going to give us anything if we don't do anything? We have to work ourselves, to help each other in order to have the little we need. The women began working in collectives then, in bakeries, vegetable gardens, and other things.

Before, women didn't participate in meetings, in the assembly, since their husbands wouldn't let them. The men understand now, women can go to meetings, and men can stay at home taking care of the animals. Now if men see that there's a lot of work in the kitchen, they help their wives or their compa~eras. They didn't do it before, now they do. There's a change.

We ourselves explain to the boys and girls that there should be respect, that we are equal. The girls and boys go to school. And not just them, but the older women as well, because they learn well there. The men go also. Because we ourselves are organizing ourselves now, and we're not in the government schools anymore, but in our own autonomous educational system. We all go there.

I believe we're going to achieve the change we want, if it's going to be achieved, because I see many women organizing themselves. We invite them also, and that way we'll have more strength. We're going to achieve it, with all of us.

We want the San Andre's Accords to be recognized. For us, as indigenous, they are very important, because, as long as we are not recognized, we'll continue to be ignored. They don't recognize us, they don't take us into account. We want our method of speaking to be recognized, of dressing, of organizing ourselves. But we aren't going to continue the bad things.

We don't say that Fox is here now and Mexico has changed now. No. Change itself isn't made by them. Just because the PRI was brought down doesn't mean that there's going to be change, no matter who wins. We've already seen that. It's the people of Mexico who have to build the change they want.

We see that the Fox government doesn't want to carry out the three signals that we've asked for in order to engage in dialogue. That 7 of the 259 positions where the armies are be withdrawn. That the zapatista prisoners are released. And that the San Andre's Accords are recognized. They say he's already carried them out, but we see he hasn't."

Comandanta Yolanda

"We want the COCOPA law to be approved because it protects women. It says that 'the Indian towns can choose their authorities and exercise their forms of internal government with autonomy, or in accordance with their customs and culture, but always safeguarding the participation of women, who are equal with men.' That means that the participation of indigenous women will be in the Constitution.

The COCOPA law says quite clearly that 'the dignity and safety of women in the resolution of any problems' must be respected. It's true that there are customs which aren't good, drunkenness, for example. That's not good culture, nor is forced marriageWhat we are doing is fighting to change it little by little, so that it improves. But in our culture's methods of working, of making crafts and many other things, we have a culture that cannot be lost. We don't want to be a country apart. We want to be included in Mexican law.

Ever since I was little I've had a very hard life in my community and in my family. We didn't have maize or anything to eat. But I hadn't understood the situation. Even I believed that it was like that because the old ones had told a story that suffering exists because God wants it like that, that we must resign ourselves. When I was a bit bigger, I found the organization's words. Then I realized that it wasn't useful to be resigned, to die like that, in poverty. And that's when I also decided to join the struggle. I began talking with the towns and to encourage other women, until we had a broader understanding that we, as women, have a double suffering. It woke us up quite a bit.

The men are struggling to totally understand what we are asking for as women. We are asking to have rights and for the men to give us liberty, and for them to understand that we have to fight for that along with them. For them to learn to not take our participating here badly, because, before, we never went to meetings and encuentros. Now there's just a few of us who go, but the path is opening up in all ways. There's more freedom. The men now take our words into consideration, and they understand that we, as women, have a place where we can present everything we feel and everything we are suffering.

We have been resisting for more than 7 years, ever since the declaration of war. This has been quite difficult for us as women, with all the armies. In addition, the armies have caused the appearance of paramilitaries, who hide along the roads. We can't walk along the little roads now. They're there, masked, hiding."

Comandanta Susana

"I've been working with women in the communities of Los Altos for many years. I am Tzotzil. Since I'm illiterate, and don't even know how to write, it's even more difficult to make the effort to talk. But we're making progress in the towns...I'm not saying it's a lot, but there's progress. As women, we suffer repression within the family, and an even greater one, in that we don't have any right to complain about everything we are suffering, everything we are feeling. There's still much work to be done. I can't say that it's here and everything's fine. More compa~eras need to participate.

We have suffered from the presence of the armies all these years. And the ones who suffer the most are the women, because we can't walk, we can't go out because we're afraid of the soldiers. We can't go out to bring in our firewood, our water, because they're always in the roads. In addition, they abuse the women sometimes. If we go along the road with our little things, they always stop us and search us. They take up our time, they threaten us. They really do make life hard for the women. We don't like their being here. We don't need them, because we know how to take care of ourselves.

We are all fighting together, all of Mexico, not just in Chiapas, not just in these communities. We want national and international civil society to help us. We are calling on everyone, because that's the most important thing.

We have hope that there's going to be a solution, that it's not going to be like this all the time. That the armies will have to get out, return to their barracks.

We've seen that Fox only makes promises, he just says his pretty words, but he doesn't carry them out. He says he's going to get rid of all the armies from the most important places, but he doesn't do it. The truth is we don't trust Fox. He doesn't want to have dialogue for once and all, he just announces it.

We want indigenous rights to be respected, because our language is the most important thing. Because our language is very beautiful, our regional clothing. Because there are a lot of people who aren't wearing the clothing now, they say they don't want to put it on, that they're ashamed to use it now. There are also people who are ashamed to speak in our own language. I don't think that's right, because we are indigenous, and we aren't going to be ashamed of being what we are, because everything we have is our culture and it's real.

It's not true that we want to separate from Mexico. What we want is for them to recognize us as Mexicans, as the indigenous we are, but also as Mexicans, since we were born here, we live here."

Conflict in Chiapas: Understanding the Modern Mayan World
by Worth H. Weller, Ben Weller (Photographer), Julia Weller (Photographer)
$16.95, Paperback, March 1, 2000
Rebellion in Chiapas : An Historical Reader
by John Womack (Editor)
$14.36, Paperback , March 1999
Voices from Exile : Violence and Survival in Modern Maya History
by Victor Montejo
$18.17, Hardcover, October 1999
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