Zapatista Women

by Lauren Conn, ’02

The Zapatistas are made up of many indigenous highlanders of Chiapas, Mexico in oppression from the government. Mayan women are taking more responsibility to participate in the politics by siding with the indigenous uprising of the Zapatistas and in the EZLN, the Zapatista army. The popularizing of women in the media is avenue to their changing roles in their communities; The Zapatista struggle consists of winning back autonomy to decide within their communities how to function and with their own requests of governmental aid. Whereas women stay at home while the men work away from the house, women have potential to interact more with others but they are constrained. In the 21st century we are finally seeing transformation from the traditional Mayan woman through the practice of more publicizing. Women’s roles have been an evolving force of power because they are coming together and forming collectives to sell their artisan crafts. For now, Mayan women actively transform their role as mothers and housewives to the additional titles as Zapatista leaders and activists for the sale of their crafts. Mayan women have a history of silence in oppression, and ultimately when they voice opinions they are stronger.

The struggles of Mayan indigenous women are spread over many issues and mainly Zapatista women have it worse. Women and children are refused health care and education because of their affiliation with the Zapatistas. This kind of disrespect has led women to become depressed and not think that they are deserving of basic health care. These sorts of oppressions have been building up for a long time now and Zapatistas have come along to change it.

The Zapatista women have created a Women’s Revolutionary Law, which declares their innate rights. This document indicates that they have become an organized and respected force in the movement for social justice. Their demands are mainly for respect, equal rights as men, health care and education, more power as leaders, severe punishments for rapists and the right to choose husbands. All these demands are basic human rights requests that should be granted to the Zapatista women, children and men.

This is a poem I wrote while watching The Chiapas Project, Women United:

Women work in the field

Make corn meal

Feed the kids

Make love

With their


The women speak with a

Tone of belief in

The structure of

The products

From which

The earth


The women are our mothers

Our caretakers

The ones who

Do it all

When it


Be done.

Women try and women succeed

The women plant the

Vegetable seeds

The women

Give the





When women have more control over the finances it means improvements in food, health care and education. The women reside mainly in their homes, which creates closeness within their physical community. The women have a more responsible outlook when it comes to spending money. Women are forming cooperatives giving them more reasons to embroider, and gain profit. The embroideries of the Mayan women crucially signify their practice as a culture because they wear traditional designs. The Zapatista movement gives them more reason to organize this way. There is support for their business and the Zapatista movement is strengthened by women’s dedication of merchandizing their crafts.

The storm of women’s power has opened up the sale of their crafts. Women’s cooperatives sell weaving, farming and cooking, which create a stronger woman’s collective. In the achievements of their co-ops the women are able to bridge a gap between the community’s reliance on them and the world economy as emerging contributors. Most importantly Mayan women are being heard through the sale of the crafts through the business of Fair Trade. The cooperatives from Chiapas, Mexico, called “Women of Corn in Resistance” made a flier that explains what they do and their struggles in life. This flier educates the consumers and perpetuates an awareness of the Mayan women’s achievements.

A spokeswoman for the Zapatistas, Ramona, is a very prestigious example of a Mayan woman in the media. Ramona is intelligent, yet her public speech in Mexico City to address people and media coverage from around the world was nothing more than a dragged out, painful reading of a letter in Spanish (from the movie, A Place Called Chiapas incorporate this into the sentence). Since Spanish is not her native language and she is hardly schooled, Ramona shows how the reality for indigenous Mayan women is of little education. Her statement of demanding rights for the indigenous people exemplifies her power as a public speaker and she draws attention to all the women. The world listens to Zapatistas because they cry a message that rejects traditional political spokesmen.

Even non-zapatista women are emerging in the public eye and sending the message of crusaders. In, I Rigoberta Menchù, the transcribed autobiography of a Guatemalan Mayan, Rigoberta shares with the world her personal version of many Mayan’s struggles. Rigoberta Menchù won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 1992 for traveling to other communities and helping them create defenses against the military. Rigoberta challenges the role of traditional Mayan women further by affirming her right to refuse marriage and birthing. Rigoberta has told her story and reached the masses, empowering the changing the views of women within Mayan communities.

A famous picture was taken of a Mayan girl grabbing a soldier’s uniform in protest of his presence; the picture is on the back of John Ross’s book, The War Against Oblivion. The soldier had offered her food, which she threw on the ground and rejected (p.251-252 and the picture on the back of the book). One does not know about the previous interaction just by looking at the picture, but can see the juxtaposition of the muscular arm of a young Mayan woman who pushes strongly against the soldier who is leaning. This picture captures the Mayan woman’s strong role in opposition to the invasion of soldiers in the indigenous communities. Mayan women’s resistance to military presence in the indigenous communities requires the physical revolt against invasion.

The Mayan woman’s voice is beautiful and loud because now they make relationships with the rest of the world. But it amazing the way Americans interoperate their call as one for themselves. Maybe the Mayan indigenous women would rather stay at home and do chores, take care of the children, farm and cook. “In January of 1994, this woman and several thousand indigenous people not only say but yell ‘Enough is Enough!’, so loudly that all the world hears them…” Mayan women are economically responsible as well as the providers of food, protection, child raising and economic support for their families. The message from the Mayan women has always been in silence, and now they join in coops and sell their artisan crafts. The women can no longer contain the injustices served against them in their community and they create change. If people will listen to Rigoberta then all Mayan women can recognize their power. Subcomandante Marcos asks, “Do you see the women and children armed with sticks and shawls?” from Our World is Our Weapon (p. 131). There is a struggle fought by all Mayans against insurgencies is dynamically stronger now from years of oppression of women.


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