Chileans begin work on first constitution drafted equally by women and men

Chileans begin work on first constitution drafted equally by women and men

SANTIAGO, Chile – Sitting alongside 154 elected members of Chile’s new constitutional assembly, young feminist Giovanna Roa, 34, and many other women delegates wore purple and green scarves bearing the slogan ‘Nunca más sin nosotras’, meaning “Never again without us”.

The comments are linked to the fight for women’s rights, which has intensified in recent years in Chile and is reaching milestones in the aftermath of the protests that rocked the country in 2019.

Last Sunday, Roa attended the Constitutional Assembly’s first convention to begin creating the world’s first constitution to be written by an equal number of women and men. This historic moment is a direct result of the 2019 protests that challenged inequalities in one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America.

“I’m the first politician in my family,” Roa told NBC News. “I feel like an outsider, but I wanted to introduce myself because the protests made me understand that things were going to be different. Our institutions, which have ignored social demands for years, finally owe us listen. “

When Roa was born in 1986, Chile was close to a return to democracy after nearly two decades of the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which resulted in the execution or disappearance of more than 3,000 people. During the same period, the status of women’s legal rights has lagged behind in most Latin American countries. Although Chile has one of the strongest economies in the region, women’s rights have remained limited.

The current 1980 constitution, drafted by a hand-picked commission by dictatorship supporters, remained in place throughout Roa’s life, even after Chile’s return to democracy in 1990. Intrepid and passionate, she can now play a role to replace it.

Although Roa may feel out of place in the assembly, her membership in the body of 77 women and 78 men is emblematic of her makeup and the participatory spirit of the movement that began during estallido (surge), as the protests, which in turn led to a referendum for a new magna carta, after the current one became the center of the protests.

The May Assembly election results saw unprecedented results, with delegates from the traditional ruling elite swept aside by political independents. Young progressives, indigenous peoples and scientists successfully campaigned on a variety of issues, including gender, access to natural resources and environmental protection. The right-wing coalition backed by President Sebastián Piñera won just 37 seats, less than a third it needs to block any radical change.

The old building of the National Congress in Santiago, Chile.Liam Miller / for NBC News

Despite its return to democracy in 1990, Chile has remained a highly patriarchal country and the Catholic Church exerts a strong influence on policy-making. It took 27 years after the end of the dictatorship for abortion to be decriminalized, and it is only legal if it results from rape, if the fetus does not survive, or if there is a threat to it. mother’s life.

Critics say the 1980 constitution has remained an obstacle to true democracy and that the Pinochet regime’s discouragement of women’s participation in the labor market and in public life has continued to affect women and their social roles. .

In 2018, a year after the outbreak of the #MeToo movement in the United States, Chile witnessed massive feminist protests launched by female students challenging sexual abuse and discrimination. Momentum flowed into the 2019 protests against inequality.

“Women were invisible to the dictatorship,” said Roa, who regularly joined the 2019 and 2020 protests at the epicenter, Plaza Dignidad (Dignity Square), in her neighborhood. “The parity rule is an example that we have a chance to do something really different. We want to create a different relationship between state and society. There has been a disconnect in Chile for too long.

What assembly members like Roa aim to do is very different from the country’s current political system. René Rojas, assistant professor in the department of human development at Binghamton University in New York, said the Chilean electoral system since 1990 has created conditions in which power is shared by the dominant center-left and center parties. -right, who were almost guaranteed to win their seats.

“The neoliberal free market model enshrined in the 1980 constitution also meant that big business dominated the agenda of the ruling parties,” Rojas said. “It was hardly necessary to respond meaningfully to the interests of the electorate.”

Sunday’s first historic rally was delayed for two hours by protests outside and inside the former Congress building as delegates deliberately disrupted the ceremony, calling for the release of political prisoners. The 2019 protests saw thousands of arrests, and some languished in jail for more than a year without a conviction. The state security law that was regularly used to arrest protesters increases the severity of petty crimes to allow for longer pretrial detentions, which is common in Chile.

Chilean rifle police transport an officer injured during protests outside the former National Congress building in Santiago.Liam Miller / for NBC News

“There is a lot of confusion as it has not been possible to get reliable figures on the number of 2019 protesters still in jail and awaiting due process,” said human rights lawyer Catalina Fernández Carter.

A bill was submitted to Congress in May calling for the pardon of 800 protesters in pretrial detention, while the justice system replied that there were only 25 prisoners.

Hope for indigenous political power, focus on climate change

While “Nunca más sin nosotras” is a banner for women’s rights, the assembly symbolizes a potentially new era of participation in Chile.

Mapuche, Aymara and other indigenous flags of the indigenous peoples of Chile, who make up 9 percent of Chile’s population of 19 million, were waved during the protests, and indigenous groups ultimately won 17 seats reserved for the Assembly.

In its first act, which will be considered another historic moment for the country, the assembly voted for Elisa Loncon, a Mapuche scholar, as president.

The current constitution does not recognize indigenous groups in Chile, treating everyone as “Chilean”. During his acceptance speech, Loncon said: “It’s a dream, it’s part of what our ancestors have always fought for, to achieve spaces of equality and dialogue on an equal footing. ”

Only 30 percent of university scientists in Chile are women. Microbiologist and environmentalist Cristina Dorador, 41, of Antofagasta University, is now part of the political process after winning the most votes in her constituency. Four scientists were elected to the assembly drafting the constitution, out of nearly 20 by ballot.

A scientific delegate from the Chilean constitutional assembly, Cristina Dorador, in Santiago during the assembly’s first convention.Liam Miller / for NBC News

“I ran because Chile is one of the worst affected countries in the world by climate change, and I really don’t think we’re doing enough,” said Dorador.

“We have a lot of problems with water, which is privately owned and lets many communities ship bottled water, as the supply is dictated by economic factors. We will lose more water because of the change. climate, ”she said. “We have to change the way we do things.”

“We will win when the new constitution is accepted”

The assembly will have a maximum of 12 months to draft the new constitution which will be approved by a second referendum in 2022. If rejected, the Pinochet-era document will remain in place.

“We will win when the new constitution is accepted,” Roa said. “It is the end of a dark era which is still very much alive, because the concentration of economic and political power is still there, as it was written under the dictatorship. … Now we have the chance to be an experience of a new kind of democracy.