Contact: Connie Huynh
AF3IRM National Chairperson, [email protected]
We have arrived inside the woods
where no one will see what
we have come here to do.
From The Mayan Song of Dzitbalche by Am Bam
CALIFORNIA, USA: AF3IRM accepted the Semillas invitation to join the Segundo Encuentro Internacional de Mujeres Que Luchan and joined, on December 27, 2019, some 4000 women from 42 countries at the plateau of el Caracol de Morelia, Altamirano, Chiapas, Mexico, to engage in the discourse of women engaged in various struggles within their cultures and territories.
AF3IRM set forth three tasks for its delegation, established by the Los Angeles and New York chapters and the organization’s International Department: 1) to learn from the Zapatistas how to merge, without subsuming, the struggle of Womankind, with other struggles of the people; 2) to clarify the status of Rule #31 – “women can demand an end to prostitution in their communities and territories” – in light of persistent rumors of an alleged acceptance of the neoliberal concept of “sex work;” 3) to bring to the Segundo Encuentro AF3IRM’s analyses and views on how the progressivist language of “work” is employed by neoliberal capitalism to preserve the billions of dollars in profits of the sex trade.
With regards to the first objective, AF3IRM was reminded of the value of a woman-dedicated space and time for discourse–on issues that impact more than half of humanity but whose political views, independent of the often male-cast political views, are rarely even acknowledged–and observed this year’s model for the mass transnational gathering of women. That the Segundo Encuentro promised to be laser-focused on women was made apparent by the Un Violador En Tu Camino performance, which opened the program.
That such a focus was necessary, Comandanta Amada explained, was because, despite the success of the first Encuentro, “women continue to be killed everywhere; they continue to be disappeared; they continue to be violated; they continue to be despised.” Neither color – black, brown, or yellow – nor appearance – fat or thin, beautiful or ugly – were of themselves important; “when it comes to violence, the only significant factor is that one is a woman.”
AF3IRM couldn’t agree more. In 2015, during its inaugural mass mobilization of women and allies in Los Angeles, AF3IRM raised the banner of protest against the “genocide of womankind” – the word femicide was not then in popular use, although activists in Juarez, Mexico had already raised the alarm about the horrifying phenomenon – noting the increasing rate of the murder of women by both state and non-state actors, both within the USA and globally.
Indeed, femicide or femicidio has been a constant feature of the Woman Condition since the establishment of the patriarchal class system. Violence against women is the single most pervasive and endemic human rights violation in the world – but unlike crimes pertinent to race, ethnicity or other genders, the killing of 137 women per day globally remains unacknowledged as a hate crime.
The other function of a woman-focused space and time is to acknowledge, in a concrete manner, the existence of Womankind as a political class, as defined by Friedrich Engels – which makes it possible to both identify what ills of oppression and exploitation attend the material conditions of this political class, and for the same class to unify and define its collective interests, objectives and strategy and tactics, in collaboration with and/or independently of other oppressed classes and identities.
Rule #31: “Women can demand an end to prostitution in their communities.”
Because AF3IRM has been on a campaign of long duration against the trafficking of women and children, and the neoliberal agenda of industrializing the sex trade, the non-reflection of Rule #31, of the original rules promulgated by the EZLN, in the more recent Ten Revolutionary Laws for Women was a matter of concern for us. The AF3IRM team, therefore, broached this issue with the comandanta in position at the gate of el Caracol de Morelia, who had been assigned to respond to questions regarding Zapatista philosophy, policies and methods. The response was definitive. “Laws are laws.” She explained that the Zapatista knew that “out there, in other communities and cities, there are many women who sell their bodies; but why? It’s because they cannot find jobs. And we don’t call that ‘a product,’ this selling of the body; we say it happens because there is no refuge to be found… the fucking system… wants to abuse us.”
“We are here to say that women do not exist only to be prostituted — which is what they say.” She continued. “We exist to govern, to organize ourselves, to prepare ourselves, to be respected in our own ways.”
This mantra which countervails prostitution and the right to live in dignity and self-respect was one that the AF3IRM delegation would hear again and again from the Zapatista women.
For AF3IRM, Rule #31 has importance beyond the communities of women to whom this right is provided. Indeed, Rule #31 has global resonance in its recognition of the right of women NOT to be prostituted, in this era when the neo-liberal imperialist push to industrialize the colonialism-imposed sex trade has practically wiped out women’s right to say no to being monetized, commodified and prostituted. AF3IRM carries Rule #31 as a message to all the indigenous, brown, black and yellow women: they have the right to opt-out of humanity’s oldest system of exploitation.
A Pernicious Shilling for Neoliberalism’s Ultimate Colonization of Bodies
AF3IRM brought its message of affirmation for the physical integrity of the poor, the disenfranchised, the young and the vulnerable female and feminized via a public reading of its Statement to the Segundo Encuentro.
The full text of the message can be accessed here.
The full video of the public reading can be accessed here.
Consequent to this reading, AF3IRM was informed of a meeting of a network-in-formation of groups and individuals intent on ending the sex trade in their communities, cultures, and nations, and among their peoples.
AF3IRM attended the meeting which started as a group of 30 women but eventually grew to about 150, with the crowd spilling out of the workshop tent to the grounds outside. Speakers denounced the sex trade as an imposition of colonial overlords, whose sexual privileges included “first-night rights” to the bodies of young Mayan and other indigenous women. What became of interest was the presence of a team of pro-sex work advocates, four women visible who counted an American, a European, a Mexico City woman, and one other, who insisted that prostitution was a matter of “choice.” Treated politely and given the time to speak their views, the pro-sex work advocates kept repeating their neo-liberal individualist mantra and paying no heed to what they were being told by the other women – “the brown and the black bodies which constitute the majority of the exploited in the sex trade,” said the lead organizer of the meeting. The final straw was a declaration by one of the pro-sex work advocates that “men also do sex work…” It was a stunning subservience amid 4000 women meeting to speak about women’s issues. The pro-sex work advocates were told to leave the meeting and to set up their own, in accordance with their views.
Despite this clear rejection, the sex work advocates went up the central stage and denounced the sex-trade abolitionist meeting as refusing to listen to their side and creating space for hatred – the usual neoliberal buzzword to stifle dissent to its views. A Zapatista woman replied firmly: “there is no space for hatred here. But let me tell you, there is no prostitution in Zapatista territory. And there will never be. Our women live in dignity and self-respect.”
An AF3IRM Proposal
In fulfillment of a Zapatista comandata’s declaration that violence against women remains the single most grievous problem confronting Womankind, and within the framework of AF3IRM’s view of the sex trade as continuing colonial violence against women, AF3IRM pledges to intensify its opposition to full legalization and industrialization of prostitution.
AF3IRM proposed to the organizers of the abolitionist meeting the observance globally of October 5th, as the Day to Commemorate Those Killed in the Sex Trade.
And last but not the least
AF3IRM brought gifts of food stuff and special malongs from Malaysia for the Zapatista women.
It was an honor and a privilege to have spent time with the Mayans, descendants of the civilization creators of Mesoamerica. It was a distinctly moving experience to watch, even cursorily, how they are weaving a new life and culture out of their traditions, historical experience, and ideas from the outside, in a great ambiance of collective self-confidence, as women in control of their bodies, territory, and destiny.
Salute. Until we meet again, as women who struggle for the liberation of Womankind and all of Humanity.