“But the system is a man’s world where women have not been able to have access ……” Silo

The relentless struggle of women and the spread of feminism in the world has been thanks to countless courageous women who have tirelessly demanded to be heard and to have their rights respected. Demands that range from the right to vote to the decriminalisation of abortion, from collective resistance against state violence to joint defence against femicide, and that today are formally guaranteed (praxis is less favourable) after a historic process led and fought for by different women and organisations.

The feminisms of today’s Chile are the heirs of those who two centuries ago fearlessly confronted a supposedly secular state and a deeply Catholic society that restricted them in all spheres and condemned them to a predetermined social role. At that time, the separation of church and state was a banner of struggle. Women from different social classes questioned the subordinate and subservient role of women and began a long, unrelenting struggle, which continues to this day, to obtain the rights we make use of today.

Since the visit to Chile in 1913 of Belén Sárraga, a Spanish and renowned feminist and promoter of freedom of thought and non-recognition of the prevailing Catholicism and conservatism, the women of the time began a revolutionary path, starting with the creation of the first feminist centres in our country. The next step was the conquest of the right to vote. Elena Caffarena, lawyer and jurist, together with Flor Heredia, drafted the bill that allowed the enactment of universal suffrage for women in 1949; from that year on, various feminist organisations mobilised to promote and encourage women’s electoral registration. Despite this historical fact and despite the fact that our political history includes a woman president, parity ministries (Bachelet government 2006-2010), a woman president of the Senate and, recently, a parity constituent convention, this progress is marred by the clear inequality that women still experience in accessing representative positions, both at national and local level.

Gaining the right to vote would give them the power to access equal education, another of the great struggles of women, whose access to public education at all levels was achieved at the beginning of the 20th century. As a hangover from colonial times, the State neglected women’s education, installing an exclusionary educational system for much of the 19th century. The intervention of authorities and intellectuals who postulated “that the education of women was the basis of popular education; if men made the laws, it was women who formed the customs. To educate women was to form a family, unlike men in which an individual was formed”.

State primary education was extended to women and, in the 1880s, their entry into higher education in some Latin American countries. In Chile, the change in educational programmes took place in 1877 with the promulgation of the so-called Amunátegui decree, which authorised the entry of women (girls from public schools) who had to prepare for the Bachillerato exam but without abandoning the traditional training for motherhood and domestic chores. It took 14 years, in the 1890s, for the first state schools for girls to appear, a delay caused mainly by political discussions about the implementation of an official secular education system and the new role of women in education and in society in general (a struggle between conservatives and liberals).

It seems that the barriers to access to education have disappeared, a very important advance but not enough, as we still see reproduced in society, partly thanks to the school, sexist behaviours and attitudes that discriminate mainly against women because of their gender, forcing them to comply with predetermined roles that limit their personal capacities and the freedom of their individual choices. Raising awareness of how gender inequalities are produced and reproduced in education and then perpetuated in society, along with eliminating all forms of discrimination and/or gender bias and stereotypes in curricula and educational environments, is one of the demands of secondary school students, university students and teachers under the slogan “Non-sexist education”.

One of the strongest, most complex and resistant struggles was the one carried out by women and feminist organisations during the military dictatorship (1973-1990) due to the terrible human rights abuses that took place during that period. It is in this period, the 1980s, that a great process of development of feminist consciousness and the struggle for autonomy took place. Again, the phenomenon responded to a political demand: the recovery of democracy with full rights for women, articulating the formation of groups dedicated to defend human rights, to alleviate the crisis of subsistence and to plan and execute the mobilisation of women (Milestones “Today and not tomorrow” 10,000 women in the Caupolicán Theatre in 1983 and approximately 25,000 women in the Santa Laura Stadium in 1989). The feminist character began to take hold and permeate the organisations by incorporating, in the discussions, the reflection on female identity, the questioning of traditional gender roles and the criticism of the unequal status of women in Chilean society; Byzantine discussions that still remain.

It is the right to better working conditions and wages that gave rise to the commemoration of International Women’s Day, when in 1908, in the midst of a massive strike for better working conditions, 146 women workers in a textile factory died in a confusing fire. The struggle to break the inequality present in labour rights and, therefore, the precariousness of life, is expressed in the permanent demands for greater access to the world of work, overcoming the wage gap, recognition of domestic and care work, social security, discrimination in health plans, the end of harassment and the double role within the home; factors that prevent women from developing their lives in a dignified and healthy way.

The struggle to open up the barriers between the public and the private spheres, and any criticism from a woman’s perspective on issues such as sexual freedom, abortion, harassment and violence, was for years burdened with the discourse of meddling in the sphere of personal life (the dirty linen is washed at home). In this sense, the feminist spring of 2018 was a milestone in terms of its capacity for mobilisation and for highlighting the persistence of gender-based violence and discrimination that women continue to experience. The emblematic campaign ¡Cuidado! El machismo mata (Machismo Kills) campaign (2006) generated a turning point in the discussion on violence against women in our country, where laws still do not fully address gender-based violence and the State often simply leaves it to the wayside. “Femicides are not a natural phenomenon, they are the last link in a chain of violence,” says Bárbara Brito.

Likewise, the strength of the green tide has placed the sexual and reproductive rights of girls, adolescents and women in the political debate, achieving a law that decriminalises the termination of pregnancy, under three grounds, up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, but which does not change the criminalising logic and that, five years after the law was passed, 43% of obstetricians are conscientious objectors. Therefore, the struggle continues until a law is passed that addresses and guarantees all the conditions for legal, safe and free abortion for those who decide to choose this path.

In the humanist sphere, Laura Rodríguez, an important reference for humanist feminists and a source of inspiration in our attempt to put an end to patriarchal violence, was the first woman in Chile to chair a political party, the first PH deputy and the first post-dictatorship parliamentarian to openly discuss abortion in Chile, stating that it was immoral for women to die because there was no law to protect them; She denounced the violence and hypocrisy of the conservative world in power; and in this context of extreme patriarchy in the Chilean parliament, she raised the issue of reproductive rights (birth control, contraceptives and education that promoted it with direct language and without euphemisms). Her way of doing politics “facing the people and with her back to parliament”, her main concern to obtain rights for the women of our country, her work, coherence, joy and love for her own life and the destiny of her people, makes her actions transcend and today they are manifested as a great fire that is preserved and that illuminates the path of us, her companions.

And so, in this historical process, women and organisations fighting for the expansion of the rights of girls, adolescents, women and diversities have had to face aggressive opposition because their antagonist is the macho patriarchal system, synonymous with oppression, privilege and power. But there is no doubt that the feminist force allows cracks to be opened in it, thanks to the global and regional union that marks, with slow but permanent historical milestones, changes in the psychological, social and political structure of humanity.

Collaborative writing by M. Angélica Alvear Montecinos and Guillermo Garcés Parada. Political Opinion Commission