Women’s rights activists in Chile say the country’s new constitution will catalyze progress for the country’s women – and could set a new global standard for gender equality in politics.
In a two-day vote this weekend, Chileans will elect an assembly of 155 citizens to draft a new constitution for the country – the first in the world to be written by an equal number of men and women.
“It’s a game-changing moment, like when women won the right to vote,” said Antonia Orellana, 31, who is running as a candidate in the capital, Santiago.
A new constitution for Chile emerged during an anti-government uprising in October 2019, when calls for equality and equitable access to health, pensions and education broadened to a demand for an overhaul of the whole policy framework.
The current constitution – drafted in 1980 during the Pinochet dictatorship and mainly drafted by a conservative Catholic lawyer, Jaime Guzmán – prioritizes a market economy, but has been widely criticized for not adequately guaranteeing health care, education and pensions.
During the uprising, women were among the strongest supporters of a constitutional rewrite aimed at enshrining equal rights and greater public participation.
Although Chile’s current constitution guarantees equality or non-discrimination based on sex, it does not guarantee the right of women to equality in marriage and stipulates the protection of “unborn life” – a clause which has ruined access to legal and safe abortion in the country. .
Orellana, journalist and founding member of the feminist political party Social Convergence, says her commitment to women’s rights was strengthened after she underwent a clandestine abortion more than 10 years ago.
Bleeding in hospital, she miscarried before a doctor threatened to report her to the police.
At the time, Chile had the strictest abortion laws in the world, banned under all circumstances. Eleven years later, progress has been slow, with access to abortion only permitted in limited cases.
Orellana is campaigning for a constitution that will include various reproductive and sexual rights – “not just health rights seen from a male perspective,” she said.
Aleta Sprague, legal analyst at the World Policy Analysis Center, said the assembly had “a lot of potential” for gender equality: the new constitution will be the first to be drafted following global #MeToo movements and a wave of feminist activism. across Latin America, which has led to protests against femicide and in favor of legal abortion across the region.
“Right now there is a growing recognition of the full range of rights (necessary) to ensure gender equality,” she said, citing women’s bodily autonomy and the right to be free. of violence.
Chileans voted an overwhelming 79% majority for an assembly of citizens elected by the people with gender parity – as opposed to a mixed assembly of politicians and citizens without a regulated gender quota – in a referendum in October 2020.
For Orellana, the scale of support for parity demonstrates that gender equality is more than a niche demand.
“Feminism in Chile is not confined to a single organization, but is part of a larger public debate,” she said. “He is flexible and can be seen on several levels.”
U.S.-based lawyer and co-author of the 2018 report A Women’s Guide to Constitution Making, Nanako Tamaru said Chile’s constitutional process strayed significantly from traditional constitution-making scenarios, when ” major parties draft a constitution that preserves most power for themselves. “.
“(Parity) is a big problem,” she said, citing examples of women’s participation in the recent drafting of the constitutions of Tunisia and Zimbabwe, in 2014 and 2013 respectively. “When we’ve seen more women and more diverse representation, it addresses the broader issues of human rights, justice.”
In Chile, feminist constitutional candidates stress that parity in the new constitution does not only benefit women, but any minority group that has been excluded from political spaces, including the country’s indigenous communities, LGBT groups and people not. gender-compliant.
“This is about power parity rather than a binary interpretation of men or women,” said Amaya Alvez, 50, a candidate law professor at Concepción.
Orellana acknowledged that not all women in the assembly will share feminist values, but she remains optimistic for change. She said: “It is time to anchor feminism and use it to open up democracy.”