“We don’t want the soldiers in our communities. Not because we are afraid, but because we don’t need them.” – Comandanta Susana (Rashkin 1)
The voice of women has been an important part of the Zapatista movement from the beginning. Women have been members of the high command and have been as much the public voice of the group as any male, other than Sub. Marcos. It is the lives of women that the movement has changed more than that of the men, giving them more opportunities while causing harm to the parts of life they have traditionally protected. It is easy to see the women of Chiapas being strong in pictures with bandanas over their faces and miss the sacrifices they have made. In this sense these women have come symbolize the change they desire to see in their communities (Eber 14).
The Zapatistas from the beginning have emphasized both indigenous and women’s rights, giving promise of a better future for both groups. The strong stance that both the movement as a whole and the female leadership has taken on women’s rights and abilities is in itself revolutionary, given the strongly traditional society. Although there have historically been female combatants in Mexican military struggle, this emphasis marks one of the first, if not the first time gender issues have been at the forefront of rights struggles in Mexico, and the it also has implication for the strict gender roles that permeate Latin America (Salas 112). Female combatants, who frequently have come of age in military camps, often speak of the stark differences between their opportunities in their Mayan communities versus those in the EZLN (Eber 8).
The leadership of the Zapatistas has always contained women in high ranks, two of the most well known being Comandanta Ramona and Ana Maria. Another woman who has become prominent among the Zapatistas is Comandanta Susana, also a member of the highest command, the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee of the General Command of the EZLN (Rashkin 1).These two women have passionately and articulately defended the movements as a whole, as well as more specific issues surrounding indigenous rights and poor (Salas 112). These women have not simply gained notoriety by their speaking ability. When a captured Mexican flag was returned to the government it was by Ramona (Salas 112).
Women have formed 20 to 30 percent of the Zapatista fighters (Salas 112). When the EZLN captured San Cristobal de Casa the officer in command was Ana Maria. Many of the women that have lead their ranks have performed heroic acts, seemingly without thinking about the risks, they have shown extremely strong devotion and loyalty to their often all-male regiments (Marcos 9). The threat they pose has been seen as very real, so much that it incited the massacre of 18 women, of which 5 were pregnant in 1997 (Eber 14). They have often been able to use the conception their society has of women, as fragile and meek, to move more freely than the men (Marcos 8).
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