Célia em Movimento

an E-CHANGER volunteer for 7 years, celia worked until june 2007 for the 'gender sector' of the MST/BA - the rural landless workers movement in the northeastern brazilian state of bahia. from then until june 2010 she worked at the international secretariat of the world march of women in são paulo. although she is no longer a volunteer, she still works in brazil with the WMW and E-CHANGER and will therefore continue to share her professional and personal experiences... enjoy!

30 January 2008

The WSF Global Day of Action and Mobilisation I: WMW International Declaration

On the 26th January 2008 thousands of women, men and children will occupy the streets to denounce injustices and affirm the economic, political and cultural alternatives that they are creating. Once again, the World Social Forum is asserting that neoliberalism is not the only means to manage the world, and furthermore, has shown itself to be the most tragic.

We, from the World March of Women, are united to assert that a world based on the values of equality, freedom, solidarity, justice and peace is possible. We affirm our resistance to the commodification and privatisation of our territories, the environment, women's bodies, and relationships between peoples.

Economic, politcal and religious interests attempt to impose themselves on us thorough arms, occupations of foreign territories, the militarisation of our daily lives, the criminalisation of the poor and of activists. Violence against women is central to these patriarchal and military strategies: as a tool of control, as a way of trying to silence us and destroying the solidarity between peoples and within communities.

For these reasons, on this day we are occupying the streets in solidarity with women who are prevented from doing so. We are drawing attention to the human rights violations in Burma, Haiti, Iran, Mexico, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, countries in which the current situation is brutal, affects a huge number of people, and is institutionalised by the State or in a context of total absence of the State.

In other countries, violence might not be as visible and is not always to be found in the headlines, but it is present in all times and spaces, and always much closer to every one of us than we might think. The fact that women's rights violenations are common doesn not mean to say that they are natural or tolerable. Our indignation is here with us in the streets.

We will continue marching until all women are free!

05 January 2008

I Encounter of Zapatista Women with Women of the World

New Year’s Eve 2007 was not spent on a Brazilian beach dressed in white as it was last year, but in the company of Zapatista women and men in the mountainous Lacandona Forest of south-east Mexico…

Today is the 1st day of 2008 and I’m waiting for the minibus which will take us down the mountain and back to the city after 4 days at the I Encounter of Zapatista Women with Women of the World… What an amazing, emotional experience.

Refusing to remain ignored, marginalised and exploited by the Mexican government and the Neoliberal capitalist system which it promotes, indigenous men and women of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (ZNLA) showed their faces to the world (although not literally - they are never seen in public without balaclavas, therefore they have no identity) on 1st January 1994. 14 years ago to this day Mexico woke up to find the state of Chiapas, south-east Mexico, under control of a left-wing rebel group, its members having spent 10 years in clandestine preparation, organisation and mobilisation in the Lacandona Forest of the region. Their spokesperson and leader is the infamous Marcos, entitled Sub-commander because it is the people who are the commander.

Essentially a political, anti-neoliberal globalisation movement, the Zapatistas (named after Emiliano Zapata: leading force of the Mexican Revolution that broke out in 1910, outstanding national hero and symbol of rebelliousness) resorted to taking up arms as the last hope for putting into practice the basic principals of the Mexican Constitution and to defend the 38 municipalities of Chiapas state that is their autonomous territory. Here, since the 1st January 1994 uprising, the almost exclusively indigenous rural population are no longer treated like animals and subjected to slave labour by extremely violent plantation owners. They are still extremely poor, but they are finally free from hundreds of years of exploitation and have put enormous effort – with the help and defence of the ZNLA – into creating autonomous education, health and hygiene, production and justice systems. And they have achieved all this while “in resistance”, in other words without accepting any financial or technical from the State, whom they know as the ‘Bad Government’.

Zapatista communities are organised into autonomous municipalities and these in turn are grouped into 5 Caracoles (meaning the large snail-shells which, when blown, make a sound that is traditionally used by the indigenous as a summons for the community to face its problems and resolve them collectively). Here the laws of the Federal government are not recognised, nor are taxes paid; instead the Zapatista autonomous authorities (indigenous men and women who hold their positions of authority according to a 3-year rotation method) serve, organise and govern their communities, obeying the people without receiving a salary. They are elected in Community Assemblies and can be replaced at any time. Their duties include resolving community problems or conflicts, punishment of crime, control of natural resources and protection of the environment, and organisation of public services, collective work and agricultural production, all founded on the philosophy, community-based democratic values and ‘cosmovision’ of the indigenous populations, descendents of the mighty Mayas (a spiritual people of engineering, mathematics, astronomy and an incredibly rich culture - including the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas - in Eastern Mexico and Guatemala before the Spanish destroyed their cities in the 1500s and 1600s). In other words, the autonomous Zapatista authorities are independently implementing the 'San Andres Agreement' (see 'Chiapas in Conflict' below) negotiated with the Federal government but that the State has always refused to respect. Immense national and international support - technical, financial - and solidarity have been vital to this process, as has the Zapatista's use of the internet and independent media sources around the world.

With the establishment of the ‘Revolutionary Law of Women’ by the ZNLA before the 1994 uprising and the adherence to it by Zapatista communities since that date, the position of women has improved significantly. Where once girls were not sent to school because it was believed they had no need for education, they now attend autonomous Zapatista schools with their brothers. Where once traditional midwives charged less for their services if a girl was born than if it was a boy, now children are taught that they are equal. Where once young women were obliged to have sex with the plantation owners before their arranged marriages, they now marry who they want without being raped beforehand by these bosses (who no longer exist because in 1994 the Zapatistas reclaimed huge tracts of land that had been stolen from indigenous communities). Where once women worked for no pay or in exchange for leftover food in the plantation owners houses – where they were at constant risk of sexual violence and pregnancy as a result of rape - they now work for their communities and families. Where once they were not permitted by their husbands to leave the house on the grounds that they would go and find themselves another man, they now hold positions of responsibility and participate actively in community life.

However, despite all these advances for women since the uprising (Zapatista and non-Zapatista have benefited in the Zapatista autonomous territories because the movement does not discriminate according to affiliation), the inequality between women and men is still strong and the oppression of women is evident in public and private spheres of life. Men are still reluctant to let the women leave the house, and they are still responsible for all the house work and looking after the children and food preparation, although “the men help us a bit more now” (Health promoter Sandra, Caracole Oventik, 30th December 2007). And they are still in the minority at all levels of Zapatista autonomous authority and suffer the ridicule of men who doubt their capacity to lead, make decisions and take on community responsibilities.

The Zapatista women commanders – community authorities and a handful of military captains from the ZNLA - shared all these advances and challenges with each other and with us (women from other organisations in Mexico and internationally) at the I Encounter of Zapatista Women with Women of Mexico and Women of the World from 28th – 31st December in the Caracole ‘La Garrucha’. Although it was the III Encounter of the Zapatistas (men and women) with People of the World, it was the first time in 14 years that an Encounter was organised by the women for women, and therefore an important step in the recognition of the inequality that exists between sexes and in the struggle against this reality. As members of a mixed movement (men and women) traditionally lead by men, in a strongly patriarchal society, they are facing the challenge of carving out a space for themselves as equals.

Zapatista Quotes:

“[O]ne day… you will understand that there exist men and women such as us, without a face and without a name, who have abandoned everything, even their own lives, so that other children… can get up everyday without having to remain silent and hiding their faces to confront the world. When that day comes, we, those with no face and no name, will finally be able to rest under the earth. Dead, of course, but happy…” (Sub-commander Marcos, letter to a little boy, 6th March 1994)

“One fine day, we decided to become soldiers so that the next day soldiers would no longer be necessary. In other words, we chose a suicidal profession because it is a profession whose objective is to disappear: soldiers who are not soldiers, because one day no one will be a soldier… And it seems that these soldiers who no longer want to be soldiers – us – have what books and discourses call patriotism.” (Sub-commander Marcos, letter to a little boy, 6th March 1994)

“We knew that we would die from illness in any case, therefore it was better for us to die fighting [in the 1994 uprising]” (Captain Elena, ZNLA, 29th December 2007)

“We showed our male comrades that we have the courage and force needed to demand our rights. Even though we don’t know how to read and write, we are learning. The people are our guide.” (Marina, Zapatista leader of La Garrucha, 29th December 2007)

“Durito says that freedom is like the dawn. Some sleep while they wait for it, but others wake up during the night and walk in order to achieve it. I say that we, Zapatistas, suffer from insomnia…” (EZLN, 18th May 1996)

“[W]e want democracy, freedom and justice for all Mexicans.” (6th Declaration Lacandona Forest Declaration, ZNLA, June 2005)

“We have decided to look for others like ourselves who think that the solution to the main problems of this country is not above, but down below among the simple and humble people” (Sub-commander Marcos, ‘The Other Campaign’, 1996)

For more information about the I Encounter of Zapatista Women try:

http://chiapas.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=153435 http://chiapas.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=153432

http://chiapas.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=153356

http://chiapas.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=153291

For more information about the Zapatistas in general (in English) try:

http://www.zmag.org/chiapas1/index.htm

http://www.ezln.org/documentos/ (Declarations and other communiqués until 2005)

http://encuentro.mayfirst.org/communicado.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zapatista_Army_of_National_Liberation

(Indymedia photos: http://chiapas.mediosindependientes.org/)

Chiapas in Conflict

For 14 years, the indigenous Zapatista communities and the ZLNA have resisted the violence of the Mexican State. After the original 1994 uprising, the civil population was subjected to bombing raids, massacres, torture and ‘disappearances’ on the part of the Mexican Federal and Chiapas armies, extreme violence that was only reduced after huge demonstrations and solidarity around the world put pressure on the government.

Since then the Zapatistas have tried and retried to find a pacific solution (including declaring a cease-fire on the 12th January 1994 that they have never broken) to guarantee the rights and protection of the Indigenous population, but on every occasion they have been betrayed by the government – 3 different administrations. During the first round of dialogue between the ZNLA and the State (in 1994), instead of sending their negotiators as agreed, the Federal government went against their word and sent 40,000 troops to try to capture the rebel commanders. They failed. In 1996, after a huge Encounter of over 6000 people representing the whole of Mexico organised by the Zapatistas, the government was forced to come to the negotiating table but after months of negotiating the ‘San Andrés Agreement’ (that granted autonomy and special rights to the Indigenous of Mexico). The then President Ernesto Zedillo and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), however, ignored the agreements (the Interior Minister calling Sub-commander Marcos to explain that he had drunk too much at the time he signed the Agreement and that it was no longer approved by the Mexican government) and instead increased military presence with the political support of the other important political parties.

And so began the low-intensity war that the government has waged against the population of Chiapas ever since. With the intention of destroying the community organisation of the indigenous peoples and crushing support for the ZNLA, the Mexican army have also trained and financed paramilitary groups of coerced rural workers to invade Zapatista land, threaten and carry out violence, persecution and torture and violate basic human rights.

The State claims, via the general media, that the conflict is ethnic – indigenous against indigenous – that it is not they who are responsible for the violence in the region, and that they want to continue the dialogue with the Zapatistas. When Vicente Fox began his term as President in 2000, for example, he fulfilled 2 of the conditions imposed by the Zapatistas in order to restart negotiations: he withdrew certain military bases and released many of the indigenous political prisoners. But instead of sending the ‘San Andrés Agreement’ to be voted in as law by Congress, an adapted law was approved, one that is empty of the political contents of the original Agreement. Another betrayal.

The current situation in Chiapas is critical. While the administration of the new, fraudulently elected President Felipe Caldarón brutally represses civil society demonstrations around the country (Atenco, Oaxaca…), in Chiapas the number of Federal soldiers has been doubled and paramilitary groups are ever more numerous and violent, acting with total impunity. Rural indigenous workers are being thrown off their land and autonomous authorities are threatened, while the government uses every means available to divide indigenous communities and create ethnic conflict, including giving Certificates of Ownership of indigenous community land to enemies of the Zapatistas, and making large sums of money available to families and communities (for the building of schools, etc) that declare themselves against the ZNLA.