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Make tortillas, not war…

10 August 2007

Marc Becker traveled to Oaxaca and Chiapas with the Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas. I wish all reports from the “indigenous revolution” realized that the while Marxism is “only” mired in its 19th century ethos (not much different when it comes to sexuality than the other great 19th century movement, Mormonism), “indigenismo” has ossified gender roles going back milenia.  Gender and Power in Indigenous Communities in Mexico was published 7 August 2007 in Upsidedown World:

For many leftist academics and solidarity activists, the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Mexico was seen as opening important political spaces for Indigenous women in a broader male-dominated machista society.

… But ten years on, has any real progress been made? Is gender equality even a goal? Does equality extend any farther than trite tokenism?

Within Zapatista communities and more broadly in Maya society, there appears to be a gap between what leadership projects and what communities experience. For example, the Zapatista Junta de Buen Gobierno that governs the Caracol of Morelia is comprised of three men and three women. Plenaries at the Zapatista Encounter with the Peoples of the World in July at the Caracol of Oventic were heavily dominated by women. But during a short visit to the autonomous Zapatista community of Olga Isabel, we only met with three men and it appears that women played an insignificant role in community governance.

But rather than blaming Indigenous cultures, it was the Bad Government that treated women as if they served no purpose except to have kids and take care of animals. … The Zapatista General Command has declared that women have equal rights, and if there are problems the Zapatista authorities in autonomous communities take care of them (although the presenters were very thin on how such problems would be dealt with). The presenters, however, did seem to concede how difficult it is to change cultural traditions when they acknowledged that while some men try to help out domestically very few of them make tortillas.

My disappointment in the lack of serious engagement of gendered issues was further reinforced during a short visit to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. …

Ironically, we met with stronger women leaders in Oaxaca and in areas that had not gained a specific reputation for such leadership.

Estela Río González and Itandehuí Santiago Galicia from the Coordinadora de Mujeres Primero de Agosto (COMO) told us their history of taking over the state TV and radio station last year in the aftermath of the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO) protests against state governor Ulisis Ruiz. The Coordinadora emerged out of a group of women who decided to support the striking teachers, and realized that they needed to organize themselves to achieve their objectives. Copying protests in Argentina and Chile, they rejected their traditional domestic roles and instead carried out a cacerolazo, a march of banging on pots and pans. They expected a couple thousand women to join them, but 15,000 showed up for a march on government buildings. With this momentum, they seized 28 buses to travel from Oaxaca’s central Zocalo square to take over the state TV and radio stations.

Originally the women only demanded 30 minutes of air time to present their demands, arguing that as a state-run radio they had a right to have their voices heard. When the station refused this request, they took over the station. They decided that having men join them would be too provocative, so only women entered. Men remained outside as guards. The women deliberately chose to be respectful and not to destroy anything. No one knew how to use the equipment, so they had to coerce the technicians “with cariño” (with love) to show them how to run the station.

For the first day the women did not eat or sleep as they ran the station. Long lines of women wanted to go on the air to talk and express their demands. As the occupation drug on, people brought food to the station. Husbands asked when they were coming home to take care of their houses, but the women said that the men would need to learn how to take care of themselves. …

If acculturation translates into stronger female leadership this contradicts assumptions that Indigenous (ie, traditional) societies tend to be more egalitarian and place value on women’s participation. This perspective maintains that discrimination is a function of the imposition of hierarchies and state structures, and that machismo is an European import.

Relations of gender and power are more complex than what an outsider would observe during a brief visit, and these roles are contingent on many factors present in different cultural spheres at any historical moment. Even so, rather than reinforcing our assumptions regarding special spaces for the unique and positive construction of gendered relations in Indigenous communities, the Zapatista and APPO experiences would seem to indicate that more–not less–exposure to the dominant culture fosters the development of strong female leadership within a social movement.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 August 2007 10:06 am

    I think that Zapatista issues are fascinating, and this was had a viewpoint I’ve never read about before, so good work! I did a very brief post on my basketball/art blog about Zapatista basketball a little while back that’s here:

    It’s not much, but I thought it might help to get people interested who had never heard of the Zapatista movement before.


  1. Zapatista Women: Goals and Reality « The Blog and the Bullet

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