The spirit of the presence of women runs through all areas of life and all across Chile: from politics to economy, from science to literature, from the countryside to the city, from the mountains to the sea, from the desert to Patagonia. It has long been unacceptable to assign them the role of home, children, and selected professions. Lately they achieved an unprecedented milestone when the bill for the upcoming plebiscite to approve a new Constitution to be voted on October 25 was approved in Parliament: 50% of those who write it will be women. Of course, in the understanding that the plebiscite will be approved, like all polls indicate, it will take place. This will be an unprecedented event in the constitutional history of the world.
The struggle of women in Chile has a long history which begins with the arrival of the Conquistadores in the 16th century, and continues in the 300 years that the Mapuche people resisted Spanish colonization first before surrendering to the nascent Chilean state, in the 19th century. The names of Guacolda and Fresia, wives of Mapuche warriors, were masterfully recorded in the epic song La Araucana written by Alonso de Ercilla and published in Madrid in 1569, and forever engraved in the imagination of the Chilean people.
The same happened in the wars of independence against Spain and in which Chile fought with its neighbors: first against the Peru-Bolivian Confederation and then in the War of the Pacific, both in the 19th century, where the first women in military uniform participated. Their presence and bravery became evident for historians, but by then they only obtained petty recognition, only one street in Santiago bears the name of one of them: Irene Morales. And if it comes to discrimination, after the last war conflict was over in 1883, the male soldiers received a pension of 200 pesos while the women were granted only 15 pesos, according to what can be read on the homepage of the National Historical Museum. This is the so-called "Chilean payment".
The upward presence of women in the 20th century accompanied the Chilean social movement in the great strikes by miners in the North and South of the country, in the occupation of land to gain access to housing, in the struggles for the right to vote, in the resistance to the military dictatorship where hundreds left their lives, suffered torture, violations, all kinds of humiliations, with many still missing. During the social outbreak of October 2019, women have also proven to be on the front line, seeking real equality on all levels of life. One of the best expressions came from the group Las Tesis who presented the performance A rapist on your way, which has become an icon of the worldwide feminist movement.
In Chile, as in almost all of Latin America, the fight for women's right to political participation was strong in the first half of the 20th century. The waves of arriving European immigrants brought the seeds of social movements; anarchist associations were formed, the Socialist Workers Party was born in 1912 and take the name “Communist Party” in 1922, and the first feminists also emerged. Chile, a forgotten country at the end of the world, with a strong conservative presence of the Catholic Church, from which it was only in 1925 that the State achieved the separation, witnessed the perseverance of a handful of women who started the long march for their political, social and reproductive rights that has not yet concluded.
In 1922, they formed the Women's Civic Party, which declared itself secular and independent, and then others emerged until, in 1935, the Movement for the Emancipation of Women in Chile (MEMCH) was formed from several groups led by Elena Caffarena (1903-2003). Daughter of Italian immigrants from Liguria (Genoa), her father settled in the North, in the city of Iquique where she was born, and she then went to Santiago to study law at the University of Chile, graduating as a lawyer in 1926. Her biographers say that her participation in political life was strongly influenced by one of the main social fighters of the time and founder of the Communist Party, Luis Emilio Recabarren, who proclaimed that socialism and feminism were inextricably linked.
Although Elena never militated, she married a leader of that organization, which meant her exclusion from political activities in the years of the so-called Cursed Law, in place from 1941-1951, which banned the Communists from national life.
In 1953, María de la Cruz was elected the first woman to the Senate, but only in 2014, Isabel Allende presided over the Upper House as the first woman and daughter of President Salvador Allende who had been deposed in 1973 by Pinochet’s military dictatorship.
Chile had the first female President of the Republic in 2006, Michelle Bachelet, who was re-elected in 2014. Becoming nominated for the presidency was not easy. Politics was a man's land, and to a large extent it still is. Although innumerable laws were passed in her government regarding equal rights and the quest for parity, reality shows us that of the top 10 Chilean universities, only one has a woman as Rector. In the Chamber of Deputies, the percentage reaches 22.5% and in the Senate 26%, while in the business world, in the boards of the 100 largest companies in Chile, women hold only 10% of the seats.
On March 8, nearly two million women marched along the Alameda de Santiago and around one million in other cities in the country, under the motto: "The feminist revolt must continue until life is worth living." Convened by the "Coordinadora Feminista 8M", the peaceful marches have demonstrated the massive awareness of Chilean women who fight for total equality, reflecting an immense cultural change. These were happy, colorful marches, with grandmothers, daughters and granddaughters; music, dances, uncovered breasts, painted bodies, lilac and green scarves, with thousands of creative posters alluding to machismo where not even Neruda's verses I like you when you are silent, for it’s as though you were absent were spared: "Shut up, Neruda," said a sign.
The developed world, and in particular the countries of northern Europe, are fast in terms of equal rights. There are female heads of government in Germany, Finland, Belgium, Iceland, and Denmark. Also, in New Zealand. They are an indicator of what is coming: equality in political participation in the highest positions of the State. "Chile woke up", and so did women long ago, but it has not been and will not be easy. The plebiscite to be held in October shall be an opportunity to open the debate for a new Constitution where women will have 50% participation in its drafting. Progressivism then shall raise the flags for equal rights, the end of private water ownership and a welfare state.