Chile remains one of the most conservative nations in the world, and its culture is admittedly patriarchal in nature. Recently, however, Chileans are demanding changes take place in the way women are treated under the law. Chilean feminists and their supporters have demanded an end to violence against women and an implementation of nonsexist curriculum in educational institutions.
Chile has a rich cultural and educational heritage. However, historically, women in Chile have suffered under the authoritarian rule of men in both their public and private lives. Beginning in the 19th century, groups of women began banding together to institute changes in the way women were treated. Early feminist organizers in Chile focused on asserting their political rights. Women have long faced oppression by social conservatives in Chile, and indeed, Chilean women only gained the right to vote in the presidential elections in 1952.
In recent years, however, Chileans have made significant strides toward female equality. Sadly, it took a natural disaster to bring certain socioeconomic disparities in Chile to light, including the plight of many impoverished women. The exposure of the degree of disparity in treatment inherent in Chilean society led to significant strides for women, including the legalization of abortion in 2013 under certain specified circumstances. This occurred despite staunch opposition from the Catholic Church and conservative members of the Chilean Congress.
Much remains to be done to address gender inequality in Chile. For example, despite the fact that women make up 25 percent of the legislature in Chile, the percentage of women in Congress remains at 15.8 percent. Violence against women in Chile remains rampant, in part due to a patriarchal culture under which women were historically considered to be the property of men. The violence is further compounded by an educational system that still utilizes curricula steeped with gender bias.
The current wave of feminism sweeping over Chile found its resurgence in female students demanding an end to violence against women and an equal parity under the law to have incidents of sexual harassment and assault fully investigated by an independent source. In May, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced his agenda for combating the rise in violence against women, as well as to address the demand for nonsexist education.
However, student leaders from myriad Chilean universities were quick to condemn the measures as not going far enough. Feminist critics were quick to note that the measures proposed by President Pinera’s agenda only focused on ending gender disparity for heterosexual women in universities and the armed forces. Pinera’s agenda, according to critics, also fails to address the students’ demands for a nonsexist education.
On May 16, 2018, feminist university students held marches in several Chilean cities, including the capital of Santiago. While students demanded a nonsexist curriculum be instituted in all schools, they also marched to protest severe inequalities in education due to income inequality. While wealthy Chilean children have access to some of best schools in the world, due to the infusion of funds to private educational institutions, lower-income students are often taught in schools that have fallen into disrepair and lack adequate supplies.
The protests drew as many as 100,000 people, and woke up what is considered one of the sleepiest and most stable nations in South America. Women in Chile are upset for good reason: One recent study by the Chilean National Women’s Service found that 50 percent of Chilean women had been the victims of either spousal abuse or sexual assault. That’s one out of every two women. When you consider the staggering implications of half of all women being victimized, it is clear that change is necessary.
Chilean feminists are determined that change can and must come, and not fast enough. Those of us watching the protests from around the globe can not only celebrate, but also learn a lot about the importance of standing up to demand equality.
By addressing sexism, misogyny and gender inequality at a systematic level, and by educating youth that all people should be treated equally regardless of gender, maybe, we can make some headway into combating sexual assault and harassment not only in Chile, but around the globe.