Tag Archives: International Women’s Day

With ‘Fierce Love and Conviction,’ Women Take Stand for Mother Earth

Women protest against the murder of Indigenous leader and activist Berta Cáceres in La Esperanza, Honduras. (Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

Women protest against the murder of Indigenous leader and activist Berta Cáceres in La Esperanza, Honduras. (Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

By Lauren McCauley / Common Dreams

On International Women’s Day, activists honor Berta Cáceres and other females fighting against oppression and global capitalism

Indigenous women, environmentalists, and feminists across the globe on Tuesday marked International Women’s Day with a renewed call to stand up against oppression and resist the intersecting attacks on women and Mother Earth —our Pachamama.

Falling just days after the high-profile assassination of Honduran peasant leader Berta Cáceres, many groups issued specific calls to honor the slayed activist, who dedicated her life to the causes of female and Indigenous sovereignty, and resisting environmental destruction.

“Berta Cáceres is a leader who has inspired us for many years as an indigenous woman activist raising her voice in the defense of women’s bodies—our primary territory—and community territory, land, water and the commons,” stated Jagoda Munic, chairperson of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI).

On Tuesday, the global environmental and social justice group called for female activists to “take Berta’s political messages and image onto the streets” and “make visible our struggles to end violence against all women and for women’s autonomy over our bodies, lives and work.” And throughout the week, FoEI has organized actions at Honduran embassies worldwide to “denounce state level violence” and demand “immediate justice for the murder of Berta.”

Her killing, Munic explains, “has shown us in practice that there is no environmental justice without an end to all forms of violence against women and to the exploitation of women’s reproductive and productive work.”

Munic continued, “Capital accumulation in a time of multiple crisis—economic, social, environmental — is made possible through the oppression and domination of both nature and women’s work: both are considered infinite, elastic resources, to be exploited according to the interests of elite groups.”

These women “are standing with fierce love and conviction for the forests and their communities, and navigating a brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation and violence and persecution as women human rights and land defenders.”  —Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network

Similarly, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina (LVC) is celebrating International Women’s Day with a call for action “against capitalist violence all over the world.”

In a statement, the group warns that “with the spread of conservative policies which constitute an attack on women’s human rights and their very lives, there is growing oppression of women by capitalism and the patriarchy around the world.”

Pointing specifically to the murder of Cáceres last week as well as other examples of women across the globe who “continue to be deprived of their most basic freedom,” LVC is calling for March 8th “to be a day of mobilizing and organizing against all forms of oppression… in order to denounce the destructive capitalist and agribusiness model and to show how it harms the lives of women and jeopardizes the food sovereignty of the world’s peoples—directly affecting women peasants and small-scale farmers.”

Taking up those calls, hundreds of women from the Ecuadorian Amazon on Tuesday are marching in the city of Puyo to call for the cancellation of a new oil contract between the government and the Chinese state-owned oil company Andes Petroleum.

The deal includes the territory of both the Sápara Indigenous people and the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, communities that have both condemned the deal. In a collective statement, women from the two tribes declared that they reject the contract “which will affect our territories, the forest, the water, and the air.”

“Women are the main victims [of oil extraction] and their ability to feed their families becomes impaired,” the statement continues. “There is deterioration of family health, and they suffer the division of their communities and other forms of violence.”

The women of the Ecuadorian Amazon have been on the front lines of this and other fights. “In marches, protests, conferences and international forums,” wrote Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake, with the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, these women “are standing with fierce love and conviction for the forests and their communities, and navigating a brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation and violence and persecution as women human rights and land defenders.”

International Women’s Day actions, photographs, and expressions of support and solidarity are being shared online under the hashtags #IWD2016 or #bertacaceres.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


International Women’s Day in Zapatista Territory

Zapatista women at the “Comandanta Ramona” Women’s Gathering in La Garrucha, Chiapas, December 31, 2007 | Photo: Tim Russo

Zapatista women at the “Comandanta Ramona” Women’s Gathering in La Garrucha, Chiapas, December 31, 2007 | Photo: Tim Russo

By: Hilary Klein | teleSUR

Women have played an important role in the EZLN, as insurgents in the rebel army, political leaders, health and education promoters, and as members of economic collectives in the development of the local and regional economy.

Before the Zapatista uprising, women in the indigenous villages of Chiapas were often forced into arranged marriages, had little access to birth control, and domestic violence was generally considered normal and acceptable. A woman could not leave the house without her husband’s permission, and women’s confinement to the private sphere translated into very limited participation in public life. This history of marginalization serves as a backdrop for the striking changes that have taken place in Zapatista territory.

Women have played an important role in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN, as insurgents in the rebel army, as political leaders in the civilian support base communities, as health and education promoters in the construction of autonomous infrastructure, and as members of economic collectives in the development of the local and regional economy. Women’s involvement in the EZLN helped shape the Zapatista movement, which, in turn, opened new spaces for women and led to dramatic changes in their lives. Zapatista women have participated at all levels of the movement to fight for justice and dignity for the indigenous people of Chiapas and, at the same time, were able to transform their own lives, their families, and their communities.

In 1994, the EZLN captured the world’s attention with its brief armed uprising, demanding land and freedom, justice, and equality for the rural population of Chiapas, Mexico. In the two decades since then, this indigenous rebellion has inspired grassroots activists around the world.

That year, International Women’s Day was just two months after the Zapatista uprising. The world was just getting to know the Zapatista movement, and Zapatista women in particular touched many of the EZLN’s supporters. The EZLN had dubbed itself “the voice of the voiceless,” while the indigenous women of Chiapas were the most subjugated, the most forgotten of an already marginalized people, breaking this history of silence, rising up to take on their government, and inspiring movements all over the world to challenge global capitalism. During the EZLN’s first public celebration of International Women’s Day, Captain Irma made the following speech:

“I would like to invite all our compañeros, from the cities and from the countryside, to join in our struggle and our demands. Women continue to be the most exploited … In order for this no longer to be the case, we need to take up arms, together with our compañeros, so they will understand that women can fight too, with a weapon in our hands … We will continue onward with our struggle until we achieve our demands: bread, democracy, peace, independence, freedom, housing, and justice, because these things do not exist for us, the poor … We don’t want to live like animals anymore. Today, more than ever, we should struggle together so that one day we will be free.”

In the years before and after the 1994 uprising, Zapatista women experienced social changes that often take generations to unfold.

“The women organized to form a cooperative and we began to see that women can also participate in meetings and assemblies,” Comandanta Micaela told me in 2001. “From there we started thinking, little by little, about how we want our lives to be. We want to change all those ideas that have been put in our heads for the last five hundred years. So we organized and now women participate more. Even if they have children, they can leave the house for a while and go to a meeting or a women’s gathering, help out with the women’s cooperative, or go to a health workshop.”

It is impossible to separate this series of transformations from women’s involvement in the Zapatista movement. During a regional women’s gathering in the Zapatista village of Morelia in 2001, women described this process:

“Thanks to our organization (the EZLN), we have opened our eyes and opened our hearts. It was in the organization that they first began to tell us that how we were living was not right. We joined the struggle and that’s when things started to change and we stopped being oppressed. Now we can participate in political work. In community and regional assemblies we participate side by side with the men. We have the right to hold any position within our organization. We also have the right to leave the house, to dance, to sing, to play sports, to go to a community party. Today there is hope and freedom in our lives.”

Zapatista women from the village of Amador Hernandez prepare to stand off with Mexican soldiers.| Photo: Tim Russo

Zapatista women from the village of Amador Hernandez prepare to stand off with Mexican soldiers.| Photo: Tim Russo

In the year 2000, Zapatista women joined forces with women from Mexican civil society to celebrate International Women’s Day with a large women’s march in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. This joint effort was the first of its kind, and a manifestation of the close relationship that Zapatista and non-Zapatista women had built since 1994. On the morning of March 8, more than 8,000 women gathered on the outskirts of San Cristobal and then marched through the streets toward the center of town.

The Zapatista women marched first—faces covered by ski masks, some with babies in their arms, others carrying handwritten signs. One sign read, “I like when you give me hugs, I like when you give me kisses, but most of all, I like when you do the dishes.” A group of non-Zapatista women marched behind them.

While the Zapatista women were all from rural, indigenous communities, the non-Zapatista women were a more diverse group: indigenous and mestiza, urban and rural, poor and middle class. It was a typical women’s march in its demands to respect women’s rights and equality. It was a typical Zapatista march in its demands to demilitarize Chiapas and comply with the peace agreement that the Mexican government had signed with the EZLN, but never implemented. What was unique was the combination of the two.

Gloria, a young Tzeltal woman from the Zapatista village Diez de Abril, attended the march that year. “I was very impressed,” she told me at the march. “I really like that we marched together with women from civil society. It was encouraging to have them accompanying us. Now we know they are our compañeras and we are more united.”

Ending patriarchy does not happen overnight, even in the context of a revolutionary social movement with a real commitment to women’s rights, and Zapatista women recognize that there is still work to be done. Zapatista women often frame their hopes for their collective liberation in terms of the life they envision for their daughters. Guadalupe, an older woman from the Zapatista region Miguel Hidalgo, said, “I’m making this effort because, even if I never see it myself, I want my daughters not to suffer the way we suffered, with the landowners for example. They’ll be able to go to school, they’ll know how to read and write. We’ve already lived through what we lived through, but we want our daughters to have the right to an education.”

Eva, another Zapatista elder from Miguel Hidalgo, added, “The path of this struggle is long and there is much we still want to accomplish. There are many things we will probably not achieve ourselves. It will be up to our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, and our great-great-grandchildren.”

From the civil rights movement in the United States to the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, from the campaign against apartheid in South Africa to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, women have fought side by side with men for their people’s freedom. In recent months, many have noted women’s involvement in the Kurdish resistance to the Islamic State group.

As women all over the world celebrate International Women’s Day in 2015, Zapatista women – and their stories of courage and dignity – remind us that revolutionary struggles cannot achieve collective liberation for all people without addressing patriarchy, nor can women’s freedom be disentangled from racial, economic, and social justice.

This article is adapted from “Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories,” published by Seven Stories Press in February 2015.


International Women’s Day: Indigenous Women Still Not Equal In Canada

Photos of missing and murdered indigenous women at the national round table in Ottawa February 27. (Karina Roman/CBC)

Photos of missing and murdered indigenous women at the national round table in Ottawa February 27. (Karina Roman/CBC)

By Pamela Palmater \ CBC News \ Posted: Mar 07, 2015

On Friday another damning report was released that concluded Canada committed “grave violations” of the human rights of indigenous women and girls across the country. The report also recommended a national inquiry.

“Aboriginal women and girls are more likely to be victims of violence than men or non-aboriginal women, and they are more likely to die as a result,” said Niklas Bruun and Barbara Bailey, members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

“Yet, despite the seriousness of the situation, the Canadian State has not sufficiently implemented measures to ensure that cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women are effectively investigated and prosecuted.”

At least 1,200 indigenous women and girls have gone murdered and missing in the past three decades. How did we come to this state of affairs in Canada?

How could the senseless and unfortunate murder of one soldier on Parliament attract Harper’s empathy, compassion and conviction to prevent another senseless death, but 1,200 horrific murders and missing indigenous women and little girls do not rank “high on our radar”?

Unequal value ingrained in Canada’s history

The unequal value placed on one man’s life versus hundreds of indigenous women’s lives require a closer examination of our history and how this sort of blatant racism came to be ingrained in every level of our government.

The acquisition of the lands and resources in Canada were not all acquired through peace-making in treaties. The dispossession of Indigenous Nations came about, in part, through the violent oppression of indigenous women.  In 1749, scalping bounties were placed on the heads of Mi’kmaw men, women and children — and represented the first state-sanctioned cases of murdered and missing indigenous women.

Under the Indian Act, indigenous women were confined to reserves, stripped of their political and legal powers, and excluded from residing with their communities if they married out. Canada’s policy to “sever her connection wholly with the reserve” was a way to ensure the “gradual assimilation” of Indians.

However, all of Canada’s policies were not so gradual in their effect. During the 1900’s, thousands of indigenous women and little girls were forcibly sterilized without their knowledge and consent. Ironically this was thanks in part to Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy of the “Famous Five” — who won their legal challenge in 1928 to have women declared “persons” under the law. McClung and Murphy publicly advocated racist ideologies related to cleansing the human race of “inferior” people – like indigenous peoples.

During the residential school era, thousands of indigenous girls were subjected to rape, torture and physical abuse in residential schools. These were not isolated or anomalous incidents, like in the case of one random serial rapist/killer, but represented the whole scale of violent, sexual and physical oppression of indigenous girls.

These little girls could not call out for help. If they tried to run away or tell the RCMP, the RCMP did not help them, but instead dragged them back to the residential schools.

Little has changed

Today, when Indigenous women and girls call the RCMP for help – the call often goes unanswered or little effort is exerted to search for the missing or investigate the murdered. The Robert Pickton inquiry highlighted these gross failures.

What’s worse is that state actors, like judges and law enforcement, have themselves taken part in the violence. Former provincial court judge David Ramsay plead guilty to sexual and physical assault on indigenous girls as young as 12 years old.

RCMP Const. Kevin Theriault only lost seven days pay for arresting an intoxicated indigenous woman and taking her out of jail and back to his house to engage in relations with her all while his colleagues and supervisor goaded him on. The Human Rights Watch report which has documented many accounts of indigenous women who have been beaten and raped by RCMP officers seems to suggest these are not isolated incidents.

The kidnap and murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas and the failure of the RCMP to properly investigate the case, and the wrongful imprisonment of Donald Marshall Junior, led to justice inquiries which revealed the real problem in Canada:

  1. The long history of discriminatory Canadian laws and policies which disadvantage indigenous women and girls and make them vulnerable
  2. The overt and systemic racism against indigenous peoples in every level of Canada’s justice system.

Canada has ignored more than 50 studies which have made more than 700 recommendations on how to address murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. The majority of Canadians, First Nations, provinces and territories and the United Nations have all called for a national inquiry and an emergency action plan.

This Sunday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. The theme this year: “Empowering Women: Empowering Humanity.” We collectively have an opportunity to make Canada a better place for all women and girls by letting the families of the murdered and missing have justice.

Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi’kmaw lawyer, associate professor and chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. Her book Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity focuses on the legal, political, and social implications of Indian status.