Chileans set to vote on draft constitution hailed as victory for feminism

By Maria M.Mur

Santiago, Aug 29 (EFE).- Once a staunchly conservative country where divorce and abortion were banned, Chile has undergone a progressive transformation in less than two decades.

It elected its first millennial left-wing president last year, and on Sunday voters will approve or reject a draft constitution considered one of the most feminist documents of its kind in the world.

The draft charter’s most progressive aspects include parity representation for women in public institutions, recognition of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy as part of sexual and reproductive rights and recognition of the social necessity and economic contribution of domestic labor and care work.

Other articles express the right to a life free of male-chauvinist violence and the application of a gender perspective in health care and the courts.

“Feminism in this text is not a simple article within a chapter. It’s a perspective that traverses everything, articulating a normative framework that puts the lives of women, girls and gender dissidents at its heart,” Alondra Carrillo, a former member of the 155-seat Constitutional Assembly and spokesperson for Coordinadora Feminista 8M, Chile’s largest feminist advocacy group, told Efe.

Chile’s constituent process was historic from the outset, since it was the first of its kind in the world have an equal number of women and men with responsibility for drafting the document.

In a protest on Saturday, eight days before the mandatory Sept. 4 referendum, a feminist rally was held in Santiago to urge citizens to vote in favor of the text as a replacement for the current dictatorship-era charter, a document that makes no mention of gender perspective.

“In 1983, in the middle of the (1973-1990) dictatorship, a public event was held here in which women demanded a constitutional change for the first time. We’re honoring them here today,” 55-year-old Gabriela Gonzalez, one of the participants in the rally, told Efe.

“It’s now or never!” Amanda Dorado, a 22 year-old university student, said by her side.

While many countries have included some gender clauses in their constitutions, none has addressed the issue as comprehensively as Chile. Thirty-six of the 388 articles refer to feminism, according to a count by UN Women.

Priscila Gonzalez, spokeswoman for the Chilean Network against Violence toward Women, said that explicitly mentioning the concept of male-chauvinist violence in the constitution gives the government an important tool is combating that scourge.

“We know that’s not all that has to be done, but it’s encouraging,” Gonzalez, whose network estimates that an average of 50 femicides (killings of women because of their gender) occur annually in Chile, told Efe.

Besides its feminist aspects, the draft constitution declares Chile to be a social state and enshrines rights to services such as public health care, universal free education and access to water.

Polls indicated strong support for a new constitution at the start of the process, but the latest surveys show those opposed outnumber those in favor by 10 percentage points, albeit with a large number of undecided voters in the lead-up to Sunday’s plebiscite.

Several scandals involving Convention members linked to the 2019 protests – a social uprising that triggered the constitution-drafting process – have undermined public support for that body.

And controversial articles such as ones that refer to the plurinational nature of the Chilean state, immediate presidential re-election and the dissolution of the Senate also are seen as having drained support for the draft constitution.

The gender-related articles, by contrast, generally are more broadly supported.

One important exception though is abortion, a practice that Chile’s most conservative sectors vehemently oppose.

The president of the Siempre por la Vida (Always for Life) organization, Bernardita Silva, told Efe the draft constitution “threatens the life of those on the verge of being born” and called for a “true pro-woman agenda with measures for mothers with vulnerable pregnancies.”

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