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Resistance and Wellness: A Summary of “Zapatista women inspire the fight against patriarchy”[1]

In 2018, female members of the Zapatistas hosted an event, for women and children only, on International Women’s Day that drew 7,000 people.[2]They called it the “First International Political, Artistic, Sports, and Cultural Encounter for Women who Struggle.”[3]The event raised awareness about issues specific to women, allowed for network building, and “gave space to consider one’s health and well-being as a woman in the fight for justice.”[4]

The history of the Zapatista resistance informs how women within the Zapatistas found their own unique voice. Indigenous people from Chiapas formed a secret group in 1983.[5]The group focused on political education, developing a new philosophy, and way of being “that focuses on collectivity, serving the Zapatista community and creating an autonomous social and economical environment for themselves within neoliberal and capitalist Mexico.”[6]The group became public in 1994 when they rose up with arms and declared war on the Mexican government by taking over seven towns in Chiapas.[7]They called themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or the EZLN. [8]

The 1994 occupation in Chiapas was short and a twelve-day battle followed.[9]The Zapatistas used the uprising to speak out against the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and how the agreement would put the interests of manufacturing exports above the interests of indigenous populations by “dismantling collective land rights secured by the Mexican constitution.”[10]In 1996, the Zapatistas became recognized as an organization under the constitution and went on to start the National Indigenous Council.[11]Unfortunately, the government in Mexico failed to honor the agreements which resulted in the murder of 45 Zapatistas during what is now known as the Acteal Massacre.[12]

The massacre failed to quiet the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas now govern 250,000 indigenous people in Chiapas and have “organized mass marches and protests, created their ‘caracoles,’ or administrative headquarters, formed autonomous governance, justice, health and education systems and launched public campaigns drawing attention to continued racism and discrimination in Mexico”. [13]

Commander Marina talked at the 2018 event of the secret meetings prior to 1994 about how they met in secret to safely discuss politics, and read and watched films because they realized the futility in “trying to demand things from our bad government.”[14]A long history of violence against women along with extreme poverty and a lack of health care or education made women “sidelined and perceived by the community as second-class citizens.”[15]Women within the Zapatistas even had to fight with male Zapatistas and insist that they had “rights as women.”[16]The event included members of the Zapatista movement but also included many women who were non-members for the first time.[17]

The 2018 event drew attention to the work of the female Zapatistas in Chiapas; they have developed projects that work to combat violence, malnutrition, and more accessible healthcare and education for women that include “agroecological farming projects, coffee sales, cooperative shops, community kitchens, traditional medicine and tortilla businesses.”[18]The Zapatista movement emphasizes “collective resistance to resource appropriation, historically-determined economic and social disadvantages and institutional neglect, which exacerbate poverty, sustain the governmental elite and destroy local traditions.”[19]Zapatista women are leading a global charge for acknowledgement of rights, and ultimately more wellness, for women. Let us hope their voice grows even louder.


This blog post was written by Paige Diem.


[1]To read the full article, please follow this link: https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/zapatista-women-inspire-fight-against-patriarchy/.

[2]Shirin Hess, Zapatista women inspire the fight against patriarchy, Waging Nonviolence (Apr. 3, 2018), https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/zapatista-women-inspire-fight-against-patriarchy/.

[3]Hess,supra note 2.

[4]Hess,supra note 2.

[5]Hess, supra note 2.

[6]Hess, supra note 2.

[7]Hess, supra note 2.

[8]Hess, supra note 2.

[9]Hess, supra note 2.

[10]Hess, supra note 2.

[11]Hess, supra note 2.

[12]Hess, supra note 2.

[13]Hess, supra note 2.

[14]Hess, supra note 2.

[15]Hess, supra note 2.

[16]Hess, supra note 2.

[17]Hess,supra note 2.

[18]Hess, supra note 2.

[19]Hess, supra note 2.

By Tribal Law Journal Blog

The Tribal Law Journal was established in fall 1998 for the purpose of promoting indigenous self-determination by facilitating discussion of the internal law of the world’s indigenous nations. The internal law of indigenous nations encompasses traditional law, western law adopted by indigenous nations, and a blend of western and indigenous law. Underscoring this purpose is the recognition that traditional law is a source of law.

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