The War on Indigenous Women

Confronting violence

When four thousand women from around the world met in a Zapatista community to find ways to end violence against women, we knew what we were up against. Many, if not most, brought with them the scars of gender violence. We also knew we were meeting at a critical and contradictory point in the history of women’s movements--a point when an all-time high in public attention and mobilization coincides with a rise in the violence the movements aim to stop.

The second gathering of “Women Who Struggle” faced two big questions: how do we take personal pain and forge it into collective action, and what do we need to be doing differently to reduce a form of violence that has proved to be not only intransigent, but resurgent?

There was no real program or set of issues defined beforehand, which made for a loose-knit and sometimes chaotic situation. The first day, scores of women stood up to a mike on a wooden platform to describe the abuses they’d suffered, and the paths they built, collectively, to free and heal themselves. Their stories demonstrated the degree to which violence against girls and women permeates society and how it has been normalized through socially accepted practices that isolate the victim and her pain. Each woman who spoke through her tears was met with a cry of “you are not alone!” That’s an important first step.

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Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program in Mexico City and advisor to Just Associates (JASS) .

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