The Zapatista Women’s Revolutionary Law as it is lived today
By Sylvia Marcos
This essay on the Zapatistas’ Women’s Revolutionary Law twenty years on, draws on Zapatista women’s reflections, together with a decades-long engagement with indigenous feminism and Zapatismo. Engaging difference through respect rather than negation can also move us beyond impasses within contemporary feminism, political theory, and rights-based activism.
“ The capitalists had us believing this idea … that women are not valuable”
– The Participation of Women in the Autonomous Government[i]We know that the Women’s Revolutionary Law was passed by consensus within the ranks of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) many months before their public emergence twenty years ago on January 1, 1994. From one of Subcomandante Marcos’ letters, we know that reactions to it were varied within EZLN ranks, and that its acceptance had to be defended vigorously as a central objective in the Zapatistas’ struggle for justice.
Both Comandanta Ramona and Comandanta Susana spent over four months travelling throughout those then-Zapatista communities. They visited each and every community dialoguing with the Zapatistas collectively through community assemblies, as is the custom of the people of the region. Once accepted in each Zapatista community and village, it was proposed that the Law be included in the EZLN publication, El Despertador Mexicano, Organo Informativo del EZLN (México, No 1., Diciembre 1993).
I remember the novelty of it, in that December of ’93, when I came across this publication, the first of a revolutionary social movement or “guerrilla” movement, which has included as an integral part of its first public appearance – its “letter of introduction” so to speak – its demands for women’s rights. This was truly innovative at the time. One could hardly believe it, and much less so when the first images appeared confirming the undeniable presence of women in positions of authority. It would be a woman – a Mayora – who would lead the taking of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas; it would be a woman – Comandanta Ramona – at the centre of the subsequent peace dialogues in the Cathedral.
Ever since, this Law has expressed itself through the Zapatistas’ own practices. If there is something that has given Zapatismo its distinctive characteristic, its colour and its flavour, it has been its emphasis on including and defending women’s rights as defined through the Women’s Revolutionary Law.
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