Matriarchies challenge neo-liberal globalization


December 1, 2005

Press release from FIRE/RIF – Feminist International Radio Endeavour


By María Suárez Toro

San José, Costa Rica




Doña Enriqueta Contreras of the Zapoteca Mayan indigenous community
in Oaxaca, Mexico


The audience listened closely as Doña Enriqueta Contreras of the Zapoteca Mayan indigenous community in Oaxaca, Mexico, described how her pre-Colombian culture has always been devoted to the reverence of Nature and  equality between men and women, despite efforts by the Spanish “invasores” (invaders) to impose a contrary value system. 


Doña Enriqueta also denounced the current plan by Wal-Mart Corporation to establish a store in Juchitlán, and then made a connection of this project to patriarchy both past and present: “Despite the fact that our respect for the divinity of nature was overlaid by European Christian ideals that were male-centered and patriarchal, our regard for the sanctity of Nature, and our imperative connection to it has survived the holocaust of that first fateful meeting five centuries ago. But we will fight it now with Wal-Mart,” she concluded.


Juchitán is a town in southern Mexico. Its 100,000 inhabitants belong to the ethnic group of the Isthmus Zapotecs, with about 350,000 people living in the coastal plains of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  


According to Prof. Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen of Germany, “The Juchitecan society is a matriarchal society that is well nourished and relatively wealthy, whereas normally ‘indigenous' and ‘poor' are nearly synonymous.” She claims that their wealth is due to a well functioning regional economy which is the result of the work of the woman traders. That is precisely what would be dismantled if Wal-Mart were to come into town.


“This chain store that is part of a multi-national corporation will in no way contribute to our well-being,” stated Rosa Martha Toledo, a Juchiteca from the same area in México.   “We thrive on local food and sharing.”


Both indigenous women were speaking at the Second World Congress on Matriarchal Studies held in San Marcos, Texas from September 29-October 30, 2005, to share how they have survived the many expressions of Patriarchy in their region.  But the women also came to challenge participants to support their struggle to ban Wal-Mart from establishing a store in their town.


Women participants from several matriarchal communities around the globe who attended the Matriarchal Studies Congress made similar statements regarding their need for support in order to counteract the impoverishment of their communities and its impact on their matriarchal social and political structures.




Rosa Martha Toledo, a Juchiteca indigenous woman from Oaxaca, Mexico


Organized by Heide Goettner-Abendroth with the cooperation and sponsorship of Genevieve Vaughan and the Center for the Study of the Gift Economy (Austin, Texas), the Congress brought together more than 50 scholars from Europe and the USA with indigenous women and men from matriarchal societies as main speakers in the event, such as: Dr. Barbara Alice Mann, Bear Clan of the Ohio Seneca, Iroquois (USA), Jeannette C. Armstrong, Syilx, Okanagan (Canada), Mililani B. Trask  (Hawaii), Taimalie Kiwi Tamasese, Samoan (Samoa, New Zealand), Mariela de la Ossa, Kuna (Kuna Yala, Panama), Fatimata welet Halatine, Imajaghen, Tuareg (Central Sahara), Dr. Wilhelmina J. Donkoh, Akan (Ghana), Gad Agyako Osafo, Akan (Ghana/Germany), Dr. Yvette Abrahams, Khoekhoe (Namibia, South Africa), Bernedette Muthien, Khoisan (South Africa), Patricia Mukhim, Khasi (Megalaya, Northeast India), Ibu Ita Malik M.A., Minangkabau (Sumatra, Indonesia), Prof. Lamu Gatusa, Mosuo (Southwest China), and Hengde Danshilacuo, Mosuo

(Southwest China), among others.


All participants discussed both the theoretical and the cultural/political aspects of matriarchal societies with an audience of more than 500 men and women.


Genevieve Vaughan made the connection between Wal-Mart and Patriarchy when she stated that “Patriarchal Capitalism is based on the market and the taking of many unseen gifts. The logic of gift-giving provides an alternative to the logic of the market. For this reason gift-giving has been devalued and made invisible though it has not ceased to exist.”

Heide Goettner-Abendroth affirmed the idea that matriarchal studies can showcase alternatives to destructive social and economic models, when she said that “these studies  shed light on a form of society that can inspire us to find better social and cultural models to solve many contemporary problems.”


Congress participants made commitments to further develop the study of the contribution that present day matriarchal societies make, and also to help disseminate the needs that women have in those communities to further develop their peaceful and gift-giving perspectives.   In addition, participants from the United States and Europe told their stories of struggle against Wal-Mart and other huge corporate chain stores to their Mexican colleagues and commited to support them in their rejection of chain stores in their country.


The Congress was dedicated to the memory of Marsha Gomez 1951-1998), indigenous artist, activist and mother (December 24, 1951 - September 29, 1998).


The First World Congress of Matriarchal Studies took place with great success in September 2003 in Luxembourg/Europe, with the title: Societies in Balance: Gender Equality, Consensus, Culture in Matrilineal, Matrifocal, and Matriarchal Societies.


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