A Constitution with a gender perspective in Chile | International

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The new Chilean Constitution, in addition to being the first born in democracy, will be drawn up equally between men and women. Citizens decided to replace the current Fundamental Charter, a 1980 text adopted during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, by an overwhelming majority —78% versus 21% – in a plebiscite held on October 25. The Chilean feminist movement, which has been the spearhead of the social demonstrations that began in October 2019, pushed the political class and found experts and leaders from the left and right as allies. Thus, on April 11 next year, the 155 members who will have the historic opportunity to make way for a Constitution with a gender perspective will be elected by universal vote, in a country that only in 2017 decriminalized abortion, illegal until then in all countries. assumptions.

The body – whose members will be chosen exclusively to draft the Constitution – must prepare the text within a maximum period of one year and this must be approved in a binding plebiscite. Experts estimate that the new Chilean fundamental law will take effect in the third quarter of 2022.

“Many aspects of the process are extraordinary. But without a doubt, the most exceptional thing for Chile and the world is that the constituent body that will have the responsibility of creating the new Constitution will be equal, that is, it ensures that between 45% and 55% of its components will be women " , explains Miriam Henríquez, professor of Constitutional Law at the Alberto Hurtado University. “Other countries made an enormous effort, such as Ecuador and Tunisia, which incorporated parity in the electoral lists and achieved results close to 30%. All of this places Chile at the forefront of the ways in which a new social pact is generated ”, the academic analyzes.

Mass protests and violence erupted in Chile in October 2019, putting even democracy in the country at risk. In mid-November, practically all the political forces and the right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera opted for an institutional solution to the crisis: a plebiscite to decide whether citizens wanted to replace the current Constitution, which, although amended 53 times in the last four decades , had never managed to unite the Chileans or enjoy legitimacy, partly because of its origin. Last March, Congress approved the bill that established parity for the convention that would draft the new constitution. A few days later, on March 8, the Chilean women again showed their strength in the streets, during the celebration of International Women's Day. Later, in full protest, they exported to the world the anthem against patriarchy, The rapist is you, of the feminist collective Lastesis.

“The social, cultural and political climate that is generated with the mobilization of October 2019 – and earlier with the women's and feminist movement – pushes the parity proposal, which permeates different sectors of women in the political world and in Parliament ”, Explains Adriana Muñoz, president of the Senate, a historical feminist of the center-left. “Between us we began to find ourselves in a kind of transversal bench of deputies and senators from different political parties. It was a quite unprecedented process, ”says Muñoz, who since the arrival of democracy in 1990 in Congress was the promoter of the laws of divorce, filiation (which ended the categories of legitimate or illegitimate children), domestic violence, femicide or the reform of the Civil Code, which previously harmed women in cases of infidelity in marriage.

The political scientist Pamela Figueroa was one of the experts who at the end of 2019 starred in the discussion on parity at the technical table where the conditions and norms of the plebiscite and the convention were negotiated, in case it was decided to replace the Magna Carta. "For the convention to have more legitimacy, it needed to be inclusive," he recalls now. The academic from the University of Santiago explains that there were two fundamental elements that preceded the agreement. In the first place, the Quota Law promoted in the second Government of Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018), which forced political parties to present a percentage of no less than 40% of women among their candidates. “She debuted in the 2017 parliamentary elections and the presence of women in Congress went from 16% to 23%. Even so, Chile is one of the countries with the least representation of women in its Parliament ”, explains Figueroa.

A second precedent was the parity vote that took place in the Bar Association last year. The technical formula that has been adopted for the constitutional convention is inspired by the internal vote of the organization. The 155 constituents will be elected with the same rules as the Chamber of Deputies, that is, with a proportional system. But the calls will be implemented zebra lists (zipper), between women and men, always headed by a woman. At the end of the process, "a correction similar to that made in the Bar Association is applied," says the academic.

There were many difficulties, because "there are many prejudices against parity, which changes the possibilities of men, who are the ones who are chosen the majority," explains Figueroa. He emphasizes that unless there is 100% proportionality, "all electoral systems are mechanisms for transforming votes into seats" and that "comparative studies show that if there is no positive action, it is very difficult to achieve full incorporation of women, when in countries like Chile they are 52% of the population ”.

The fact that the convention is made up of the same number of women as men does not necessarily imply that the Constitution has a feminist imprint, that is, that it establishes a “commitment to the protection of the equality of women in the exercise of their rights and that recognize that they are moral agents of their own development and that they should not be substituted by other people in decision-making ”, explains Yanira Zúñiga, an academic at the Faculty of Legal and Social Sciences of the Austral University of Chile and an expert in gender. "But the accumulated evidence regarding the effects of an increase in the presence of women in the processes of production of legal norms —mainly in Parliaments— shows that the possibilities of creating gender agendas are growing," says Dr. Zúñiga.

Structural subordination

The Chilean constitutionalist Claudia Sarmiento explains that the gender perspective should cross the different constitutional discussions, including the government system: “Chile has a hyper-presidential system, where many powers are concentrated in the same hand. Does it favor the condition of women or not? ”, Asks the lawyer. “A Constitution entrench the most important interests and the way in which power is distributed. If until now you have maintained a certain status quo Regarding the structural subordination that affects women, it is important to bear in mind how the fundamental charter could or could not be a motor for the mobilization of equality. In other words, what type of state are we going to need for equity to be relevant in Chile ”, reflects Sarmiento.

It lists issues that are not in the current Chilean Constitution, such as sexual and reproductive autonomy or the rules to combat violence against women. Sarmiento affirms that there are no examples of a feminist Constitution in the world, although the French one “has a principle that evokes parity”, nor does he consider it strange: “Women have been historically relegated from the political process. And their absence guarantees that their gaze is not incorporated into public policies ”, he comments.

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