Women on the verge defending life against the global patriarchy

zapatista women

What if, compañera and sister, we learn not only to scream out of pain, but to find the way, place, and time to scream a new world into being? Just think, sister and compañera, things are so bad that in order to stay alive we have to create another world.’
Coordinators of the Zapatista Women for the Second International Gathering of Women Who Struggle

More than ever before, women are a vital part of the formation of a new radical political subject that cannot be recognised with old analytical tools. This radical subject-in-the-making, led by women, is anti-racist, ecological, communal, democratic and prefigurative.

However, many theorisations about social struggles today are not sufficiently interrogating their ‘too’ familiar concepts, methodologies and epistemologies and, as a result, they contribute to making this new subject of radical change invisible.

Women’s strong collective actions point to a tendency that has been emerging in recent years and anticipates a future where women will feature prominently once again. Women are thinking and living on the verge. The meaning of being on the verge is not included in the words we have learned to speak under the present conditions, by which women have become the target of male violence, assassination, exploitation, sex trafficking, subjugation. Against and beyond this global scenario, women’s struggles include the creation of a new grammar, attuned with life, affect, commonality, possibility and prefiguring new ways of doing and being.

I have used the term ‘women on the verge’ to create an international and interdisciplinary network of female scholar–activists working in Argentina, Australia, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the UK and the USA in 2015. The aim of WoVNet is to bring to light both significant advances in the feminist resistance to violence against women, and pioneering women’s theorising in the social sciences that is often absent in published critical theory scholarship.

We have published an edited collection written by female scholars in which we explore nature and culture, social reproduction, community and politics, prefigurative social movements, politics of possibility, epistemologies of hope, concrete utopia and decolonising critique. We have also argued elsewhere (Dinerstein & Amsler) that there is a lack of appreciation that women’s struggles, understood in a broad sense, are struggles for the reproduction of society itself. As a 2017 headline in The Guardian put it, ‘violence against women harms us all’. It is a global health emergency. The possibility of life on this planet depends on the real eradication of this violence, which is not an anomaly but a defining feature of a capitalist, colonial and patriarchal society.

One of the most extraordinary examples of ‘women on the verge’ is the Zapatista women from Chiapas, Mexico. The Zapatistas movement (named after revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata) is a revolutionary movement of a new type. It came to light for the first time on 1 January 1994, when the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) occupied several counties of Chiapas. The ski-masked peasants (armed to be heard, and ski-masked to be seen) exclaimed ‘Enough is enough!’ (Ya basta!), declared war on the Mexican state and characterised globalisation as ‘a war against humanity’. The Zapatista’s ¡Ya Basta! resonated around the world and changed the way we perceived both global capitalism and revolutionary change.

Zapatista women were essential to the Zapatista uprising of 1994, fighting for the EZLN movement’s cause, in the Lacandon jungle and in the Chiapas communities, enduring the pressure and violence that the Mexican state and the paramilitary exercised upon then as women. But they also stood up for their rights and demanded changes at home, in their communities and within the movement, which initially was military and male oriented. Their view is that the EZLN’s struggle for democracy, self-determination and justice will not be possible without women. They secured the respect for their rights against the ‘deep-rooted discrimination to take on leadership roles to fortify their communities’, and brought about the Women’s Revolutionary Law (1992) that enabled them to have the right to health, to education, to participation and to freedom from violence.

In March 2018, the compañeras Zapatistas convened the First International Gathering of Women who Strugglewhich brought together 7,000 women of all ages, races and beliefs worldwide to ‘meet, talk, and listen as women’. Zapatista women are feminists in a way, but they distance themselves from the usual ideological, strategic and political divisions of Western feminism. To them feminism is practical and comes from women’s experience.

At this international gathering, women focused on the defence of life against the hetero-patriarchal obliteration of women: ‘We agree to live, and for us to live is to struggle…so we agree to each struggle in our own way, place, and time.’ They discussed the necessity of fighting against capitalism as well as against patriarchal violence, because the latter not only permits the abuse of women, but even leads to murder, and blame for their own deaths. The Second International Encounter of Women who Struggle (27–29 December 2019) focused on violence against women only. The invitation in the form of a ‘Letter to Women in Struggle Around the World’ highlighted that the possibility of life on the planet depended on the real eradication of this violence which, rather than being an anomaly, ‘pertains to “their” capitalist, colonial and patriarchal society’.

As I am writing (July 2021), a delegation of the Zapatista movement has come from Mexico to Europe, to ‘invade’ the continent. With the symbolic political action of ‘invading Europe’, the Zapatistas aim to prove that they were not conquered despite all the attempts to destroy them, and that they can fight back with dignity and for their dignity, and to trigger a process of solidarity in Europe (called Rebel Land), inviting those who struggle to sign and adopt their Declaration for Life.

The Zapatista’s Declaration for Life was inspired by the defence of life proposed by Zapatista women at the international gathering of 2018, when 7,000 agreed that the possibility of the sustainability of life on the planet depends on the eradication of violence against women. The Zapatista women are women on the verge: they are redefining feminism as praxis, and embody a mode of resistance: they have inspired a struggle for the defence of life and against global patriarchy from the south-east mountains of Mexico to the world.

Ana Cecilia Dinerstein is a post disciplinary social scientist, University of Bath where she teaches critical, decolonial, Marxist and feminist theory. She has created a new intersectoral field for research and social transformation: the global politics of hope. She is founder and coordinator of the Decolonising Knowledge Research Hub, and author, co-author and editor of several books.

Originally published by Transforming Society

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