X Close

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Home

Collective reflections about development practice and cities

Menu

A historic victory for gender equality in Chile

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren2 November 2020

By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren, Lieta Vivaldi & Camila Cociña


On Sunday 25th October, Chileans voted to overhaul the Pinochet-era Constitution. The country also determined that this new Constitution will be written by an assembly composed exclusively by elected citizens, half of whom will be women. In doing so, Chile will become the first country in the world to write a Constitution with gender parity.

Manifestation in Santiago for International Women’s Day, 8th March 2020. Galería Cima has recorded from above all events in Plaza Dignidad since October 2019. Source: Galería Cima


The protests and the overall claim for Dignidad

On 18th October 2019, simmering social unrest in Chile exploded. Led by students in response to Metro ticket price rises by 30 pesos, protests spread across the country, exposing deep inequalities and systemic injustice. “No eran 30 pesos, eran 30 años” (“It wasn’t 30 pesos, it was 30 years”) became a mobilising slogan for protesters that claimed several demands to address multifold inequalities experienced by the majority of people.

The protests were framed, in broad terms, as a response to the failure of the neoliberal system. While economic and social policies have for decades led to successful macro level indicators, the model has deepened disparities in terms of distribution, political power and representation. The consequent human rights violations and police brutality that followed the protests, only deepened the sense of injustice. Issues of representation of ethnic groups and women in politics played a key role, as well as demands related to pension, health and environmental issues, summarised under the overall claim for Dignidad (Dignity). The demands for change were so fundamental, wide-reaching and varied, that less than a month after the beginning of the protests the political establishment agreed on setting up a route map to write a new Constitution through a democratic process. One year and one week later, the country was finally given the chance to vote on whether or not to write a new Constitution, and if so, who would be responsible for writing it.

 

A new Constitution to address entrenched social inequalities

The results were overwhelming. With a large turnout across the country, 77.6% voted in favour of a new Constitution. Crucially, 78.99% determined that it should be written entirely by elected citizens, half of whom will be women, rather than both citizens and members of parliament.

How and why did a mobilisation driven against inequalities find an answer in a claim for a constituent process? And what do the results and the nature of the body in charge of writing the new Constitution tell us about the fight for gender equality in Chile and Latin America?

When social mobilisations and violence exploded in October 2019, many figures from the establishment claimed that they ‘didn’t see this coming’; while the statement seems to project some humility, it is hard to comprehend it in a country where the depth of inequalities and the ‘social gap’ had been widely researched and socialised by organisations from diverse sectors, as encapsulated by the report “Desiguales” (“Unequals”) published by UNDP in 2017. Even more, mobilisations and unrest against injustices in different arenas had grown exponentially: while students’ mobilisations for public education trembled the political agenda in 2006 and 2011, the last decade witnessed the emergence of massive protests around gender and indigenous rights, environmental concerns, and pension issues.

Looking back, what all these mobilisations had in common was a call for what the 2019 mobilisation coined as ‘dignity’. From a social justice perspective, the distribution aspect of inequality was only one of the elements at stake: claims for representation and parity participation have been central to all of them. While some legal reforms were introduced in each of these sectors as response to citizens’ claims, the impasse for structural change seemed to be always the same: the burden of the Constitution written during the dictatorship in 1980, and its limitations to adapt to the claims of the majority while concentrating power in a few. Unsurprisingly, the demand for a new Constitution had been growing as a significant claim by civil society groups and new political forces (who in 2013 articulated the campaign #MarcaAC), and also by authorities that led President Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018) to launch a first attempt of re-writing a democratic Constitution through self-organised local assemblies (for an assessment of that process, see here).

But the demand wasn’t just for any new Constitution, or any constituent process. While significant in itself, the overwhelming triumph for writing a new Constitution is as telling as the nature of the politics of representation of the body that will write it up. This representation was determined in March 2020, when parliament voted for any citizen-based constitutional convention to be gender equal, following long-term demands for gender parity. In voting for a new Constitution written exclusively by elected citizens, Chile has voted to become the first country to enshrine the equal representation of women and men in the writing of its Constitution.[1]

Poster in Santiago’s street. It reads: ‘Against all violence: neoliberal, clasist, racist and patriarchal. We resist to live, we fight to transfor”. Source: Ignacia Ossul, December 2019.


The key role of feminist movement(s)

 Chile has historically been one of the most conservative countries in terms of gender rights in Latin America; abortion was only made legal in 2017, and only on three grounds. Yet, it was the first country in Latin America to establish a Department of Women’s Services in the 1990s which became the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality in 2016. During Michelle Bachelet governments (2006-2010; 2014-2018) many progressive gender bills were put forward, such as the newly passed abortion law.

Progress has not been limited to legislation. Many believe last year’s extended protests were made possible by feminist groups, who played a key role both in setting the agenda and in mobilising people on the street. The 2016 feminist protests of “Ni Una Menos (‘Not one [woman] less’), in which thousands of women in Chile and across Latin America marched to demand the end of gender violence, is also seen to have prepared the ground for last year’s mobilisations. In May 2018, the “Chilean feminist revolution” took place. It began in universities with demands for equal rights in higher education, to stop sexual assault and to incorporate feminist theories and authors to the syllabus. These demands expanded later to different social inequalities caused by patriarchy and neoliberalism that were an important precedent to feminist demands from October 2019 onwards.

Many of the most enduring, widely shared and internationally recognised images of the protests were based in feminist demonstartions, whether through the performances of Un violador en tu camino” (‘A Rapist in Your Path’) by art collective “Las Tesis” and the giant textile banner “Borda sus Ojos in which women from across the country embroidered an eye to denounce police brutality implicated in 359 recorded eye injuries. The banner was subsequently displayed this year in the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

During December 2019, thousands of women gathered in the national stadium in Santiago to perform “Un Violador en tu camino” (‘A Rapist in Your Path’) by Las Tesis. Source: “Las Tesis, Estadio Nacional” by pslachevsky under CC license.

The outcome of the plebiscite directly reflects the demands of feminist groups for more representation and parity in political participation in decision-making spaces. This victory has already set a precedent for representation and inclusion of other groups, which has been taken forward by a bill to include additional reserved seats for indigenous peoples in the writing of the Constitution, currently being debated in parliament.

The details of the referendum results, at this early stage, seem to manifest some of the intersectional claims for recognition and participation that had been raised over the last decade: first, the social gap and concentration of power of elites resistant to change was manifested by the fact that the option against the new Constitution only won in the three richest districts of Santiago,[2] which has led some to say that “No eran 30 pesos, eran 3 comunas” (“It wasn’t 30 pesos, it was 3 districts”); second, in a country where participation in elections had systematically decreased since the return of democracy in 1990, this plebicite witnessed an increase of turnout particularly in poor and segregated districts, such as La Pintana and Puente Alto in Santiago, with increased turnout from young urban groups, who were consistently seen as the most politically disaffected group; and finally, looking at the districts in which the support to the new Constitution was the highest (with triumphs of around 90%) they tend to be small towns or rural areas that had been at the eye of the storm of environmental conflicts over the last years, led by local communities against extractive companies. All in all, these results speak of a hope for change precisely from those groups that have been marginalised from the narratives of development and growth that have dominated the country, and women are not the exception.

Mapuche and Wiphala flags in manifestations, which took place every Friday in downtown Santiago. Source: Camila Cociña, December 2019.


The Constitution from a feminist perspective and how it could bring about change

In terms of gender equality, the opportunities in the Constitution for social change are immense, both in the recognition of women in decision-making spaces, as in the potential for a gender approach to the creation of the Constitution. Although the equal participation of women and men in the Constitutional convention alone does not guarantee feminist outcomes and the protection of women’s rights, particularly considering the wide diversity of age, class, ethnicity and political beliefs of the women involved, this remains a significant step towards improving gender representation in the country.

Before 2015, Chile had one of the lowest rates of female parliamentary participation in Latin America: 15.8% compared to the average of 27.8% in Latin America. It was only after the introduction of a new law on gender quotas for 40% of the candidates, that the percentage of elected women increased to 23%. This is still lower than the average in the region and far from Nordic countries, that have 42.5% of female representation in parliament.

To think a Constitution from a feminist perspective is much more than including an article establishing that men and women are equal before the law. Formal equality has proven to be completely insufficient in order to really guarantee women’s and sexual diversity rights.

On the one hand, feminist demands involve expanding rights that have been historically made invisible, such as domestic and reproductive labour, sexual and reproductive rights, and the prohibition of discrimination; additionally to incorporate gender perspective to rights that are already in the constitution, such as health care, education, and so on. On the other hand, a gender perspective implies questioning the politics of representation of diverse identities, knowledges and claims; then, writing a feminist Constitution means also to ensure a mechanism to distribute and negotiate power, ensuring that multiple and often marginalised identities are recognised in decision-making processes in the long term.

The constituent process is an opportunity to expand this approach to all government bodies: the equal representation of men and women in each state branch and institution is also crucial to ensure the inclusion of women and sexual dissidence in processes of decision making. Furthermore, Chile has subscribed and ratified international treaties with commitments to ensure several women’s rights, and the way in which the legal system includes them to then apply them by national courts, is also a matter of the constituent discussion. Last, the state should have specific obligations and duties in order to incorporate gender perspective in public policies, judicial decisions and national legislation.

Even if the outcome of the Constitution is unknown, the decision to vote for gender parity of those writing the Constitution is an enormous win for Chile, and a model for democratic politics of representation and parity participation around the world.

Graffiti in Santiago. It reads: ‘No fear / It was sadness, it was rage, it was us / New Constitution!’. Source: Camila Cociña, December 2019.

 

[1] Additional to these three districts (Las Condes, Lo Barnechea, Vitacura), there were another two small districts where the option against the new Constitution won (Antártica and Colchane, both of which are rural areas with military bases), making it to a total of 5 out of the 346 districts of the country. For a complete analysis of the territorial distribution of the results, see “Cartografías del apruebo: notas de trabajo”.

[2] Even if similar processes in other countries have ensured minimum quotas for women as candidates and elected representatives, this will be the first case in which the final composition of the body in charge of writing the new Constitution will be actually composed by 50% women. For more information, see “Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation”.

 

Ignacia (University College London), Lieta (U. de Chile and UAH) and Camila (University College London) are academics from Chile working on women’s rights, feminist theory, poverty, planning and urban equality.

Crafts as a way into politics: Chilean arpilleras

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren22 February 2019

Co-authored with Trinidad Avaria

What are the role of crafts in political processes? Can crafts be a tool for individual or collective awareness? Can they open space for social justice for women? In December, we undertook an explorative workshop in the city of Santiago to answer some of these questions with women making Chilean arpilleras (burlap in Spanish), which are tapestries embroidered with scraps of recycled fabrics. The workshop was organised by the Chilean NGO Casa del Encuentro of Fundación Santa Ana that works with low-income women and their children, providing practical work skills for women and a safe space for children to play.

The motivation of the workshop came from our personal experiences. Having both grown up in Chile, we were familiar with the craft and we were aware of its political connotation during the military regime (1970-1980s). Over the last decade, we have both worked with low-income women in the country, looking at the cross section between gender and class, in a country that remains mostly unequal, segregated and machista. And this specific craft was an interesting entry point to discuss women’s participation in social and public life.

“No compromise on justice”
Image: The William Benton Museum of Art


The history

 The first arpillera workshops were organised in 1974 by the Catholic Church, Vicarate of Solidarity and the Association of Families of the Detained-Disappeared. Concerned by human rights violations and women’s struggles, they supported a space for women to grieve and help each other, through sewing and embroidery. Thousands of low-income women participated in workshops making arpilleras, the motives of the embroidery was a way to denounce the cruelty of the dictatorship. As such, the production and sale of the arpilleras was clandestine. They were sold abroad, and were bought by people in exile as well as left-wing European supporters.

More than 200 arpillera workshops in low-income neighbourhoods across Santiago, transformed the private and feminine nature of sewing and embroidery into the production of “political objects” that both challenged the dictatorship (Grindon & Flood, p. 11, 2014; see also Krause, 2004), and provided emotional relief for women (Frank, 1996). In doing so, they strengthened their political awareness by socialising with other women in the same situation (Baldez, 2002), and encouraged each other to take action. Ultimately, the making of arpilleras was a way for many women to engage with politics (Boldt & White, 2011).

Women

In Latin America, it has been widely documented by feminist researchers that women’s political participation has been initiated by their roles as mothers (Baldez, 2002; Chaney, 1979). This does not necessarily challenges their traditional gender roles, but instead uses it to become active in the public sphere (Classic examples include, Madres de Mayo in Argentina and Ollas Comunes in Chile).  After the dictatorship, women were expected to go back to their traditional roles, as they no longer existed in a state of exception. However, what happens when democracy is institutionalised, but women remain in a position of inequality? What spaces to participate exist and how can they access those spaces? Almost 40 years have passed since the official arpillera workshops closed. However, low-income women in many parts of the country continue meeting to make tapestries, passing the knowledge from one to the other.

Fundación Santa Ana works in two of the same areas where these workshops started decades ago. In their experience, they see how the role of women is still shaped by deep gender and class inequalities. These are manifested in low employment opportunities and strong reproductive responsibilities, leaving them bound mostly to the private space of the household and with few spaces to socialise, beyond with their families. This does not only have consequences for the women themselves, but also to their children. As the NGO has documented, women confronted with the loneliness of raising children mostly on their own are likely to transfer that frustration to their children. It is in this context that the workshop emerges, as a way of understanding how women from the same area are able to play a different role and take up other spaces of socialisation and engagement beyond the home space.

The workshop

Workshop in Santiago de Chile exploring the meaning of arpilleras today, December 2018. Source: Authors

In December of 2018, we ran a workshop with Renca’s arpilleristas (women that make arpilleras) and women from the area. The arpilleristas have worked in the craft for 20 years, and lived through the dictatorship (although many would not discuss it), continue making arpilleras to sustain their households, and say that arpilleras “saved their lives” from depression, separations and other afflictions. During the workshop, they taught the craft and shared their stories.

From the workshop we can see that contemporary arpilleristas’ work does not necessarily target a specific political event, however it remains an important activity as a source of income – selling finished items in Chile and abroad – and as a space to socialise and support each other. Although living conditions are radically different to those during the dictatorship, the growing economic inequality of the country, paired with a machista culture and conservative gender legislation, keeps low-income women in a challenging position. As such, the three aims of arpilleras during the 1980’s – (i) economic support, (ii) a space to socialise, and (iii) create awareness and become effective leaders, remain relevant today.

References:

Baldez, L.(2002), Why Women Protest: Women’s Movements in Chile, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Boldt, K., & White, T. (2011). Chilean women and democratization: Entering politics through resistance as Arpilleristas. Asian Journal of Latin American Studies, 24(2), 27-44

Chaney, E. (1979). Supermadre: Women in politics in Latin America. Austin TX: University of Texas Press.

Grindon, G., & Flood, C. (editors) (2014). Disobedient objects. V&A Publications.

Krause, W. (2004) The role and example of Chilean and Argentinian Mothers in democratisation, Development in Practice, 14:3, 366-380.

The William Benton Museum of Art (2018). Accessed: https://benton.uconn.edu/exhibitions/arpilleria/images/

 

Ignacia is a Research Associate at UCL and has a PhD in Development and Planning (UCL). Trinidad is the director of Casa del Encuentro at Fundación Santa Ana and has a Master in Psychoanalysis (Universidad de Chile).

Towards an Autonomy of Housing – The Legacy of John F C Turner in Latin America and Beyond: Event Review

ucfumkr13 March 2017

 

Reflections from the ‘Towards an Autonomy of Housing’ event that took place on the 22nd of February 2017 and was presented by the UCL Development Planning Unit (DPU) as part of the series DPU Dialogues in Development.

turner1

 

Industrialisation, a well-known driver for rural to urban migration, creates the increased demand for housing as a by-product of a swelling city. Emerging cities in developing nations, lacking the capacity to respond to a rapidly increasing urban population tend to become inundated with the enormous demand for housing, which poses a problem with no immediate solution. A housing deficit left unaddressed gives rise to the development of informal settlements by people perceived to be left with limited options. In an effort to find their own solutions, settlers “illegally” create unplanned neighbourhoods in areas not fit for development and deficient of infrastructure and services.

 

In the case of Lima, rural migrants who rushed to the city for employment and enterprise found themselves in overcrowded and shabby ‘tugurios’. In the 1950’s, individuals frustrated with forking out huge portions of their income for high-cost rent in exchange for sub-standard living conditions formed community groups to plan major land invasions in the hills surrounding the centre of Lima. The strong networks formed by the invaders made it difficult for authorities to action any form of evictions against them. The invasions took place around the same time that John F. C. Turner, a British architect who had been closely examining housing policy and programs in Lima, wrote his first report in 1959. The government of Peru tried and successfully relocated some squatters to government land. However, the invaders of El Ermitaño stood their ground forcing authorities to develop strategies to take into account their needs through slum-upgrading, rather than to resist the young settlement. Turner, despite this, critiqued the implementation of these processes in his early career, finding them to be insubstantial in addressing the dwelling needs of the communities they were to service. The residents of El Ermitaño, with the help of Turner’s advocacy, were granted legal tenure and were able to avoid evictions and demand municipal services.

turner2

Dr. Katherin Golda-Pongratz, a German architect who followed Turner’s work closely while completing her PhD in Architecture in Peru, became interested in and is now referencing Turner’s contribution to El Ermitaño in her own work. She gave an anecdote about how the two have collaborated on the Spanish publication of the book Autoconstrucción which explores Turner’s 1948 writing. The book references Patrick Geddes’ pattern of relationships in the “notation of life” which has influenced much of Turner’s philosophy. The book will feature other articles written by John and translated in to Spanish including an entry for the magazine Architecture and Design that was the precursor to the film A Roof of My Own.

 

Golda-Pongratz further explained how the research process of completing Autoconstrucción led to the resurfacing of the 30 minute documentary guest-edited by Turner in 1963 and released the following year by the United Nations Centre for Building and Planning. The version originally released to the public aired void of an integral address from then President Fernando Belaúnde.

 

A Roof of My Own takes the viewer into the arena of the autonomy of housing in the 1960’s. It highlights the political, social and personal discourses of the time in the settlement of El Ermitaño in northern Lima and demonstrates how ordinary people were managers of their own house construction. The case of El Ermitaño underscores Turner’s concept that informal settlements are not to be viewed as a problem but an opportunity to provide solutions to the problem of housing.

 

In his introduction of the video, Turner touched on the relevance of the film in today’s housing climate where young professionals worldwide find themselves not earning enough to save for a downpayment on a home. They are instead forced to stay at home with their parents or are caught in a vicious cycle of settling in expensive, sub-standard housing which consumes most of their income, hindering their capacity to save. He also stated that housing policies that aim to provide homes that the poor cannot access is not a suitable to rectify a housing deficit.

 

turner3

A Roof of My Own has inspired Golda-Pongratz to continue the legacy of Turner’s work by creating a sequel to the film. She hopes to show her continuation in the same community centre in El Ermitaño where the original film was screened by the invaders. El Ermitaño is now considered an ‘arrival city’ where Golda-Pongratz anticipates that the second chapter will provide a link to the new generation of residents. The narrative will explore the precarious living conditions of families living on the lomas, increasing the pressure and encroaching on the fragile landscapes. The trailer for the new film asked probing questions relating to the ‘limits to growth’, the role of land traffickers in urban expansion as well as the role of the residents in place-making and shaping the future of the El Ermitaño.

You can view the lecture here:

You can hear the lecture in the audio podcast here:


Monique Rose is an Architect and Chevening scholar from Jamaica studying for a MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development. Her research interests are in housing and disaster risk management in the Global South. This year she has joined the UrbanArk Project team and will write her dissertation on the relationship between urban planning and disaster.