With a new female majority cabinet and the president’s intention to build a “feminist government,” many are now looking to Chile to act in favor of women’s rights. President Boric has made several strong commitments to closing the gender gap in all areas of Chilean society, but some are yet to be launched. Chile Today spoke with Pamela Valenz of the 8M Feminist Coordinator (CF8M) about the government’s plans and what still urgently needs to change within Chilean society.
With a new president comes a new cabinet, one with a female majority for the first time in Chile’s history. Many of the women appointed by President Gabriel Boric now occupy positions that were commonly held by men in the past, such as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense. The feminist movement also now has some prominent voices within the new administration, such as Spokesperson Camila Vallejo and Minister of Women and Gender Equality Antonia Orellana.
Chile Today spoke with Pamela Valenz of the 8M Feminist Coordinator (CF8M) about the government’s plans to advance women’s rights, but also what still needs to change within Chilean society. CF8M coordinates multiple social, political, and individual organizations from a feminist perspective and seeks to promote dialogue, collective action, and a common agenda.
When asked about the advances made by the new government in terms of women’s rights, Valenz explained that it was too soon to know.
Rebuilding the system from the ground up
Valenz explained that what the CF8M and other social movements seek is a profound systemic change. “At present, the Constitutional draft contains substantial changes to the structural system of Chilean society, and of course the character of the state itself. Changes such as the installment of a plurinational state, parity democracy, the end of the Senate, and the strengthening of regional governments allows us to say that the future under the new Constitution will be one with more space for dignity and where the people rule. It will no longer just be the same old interests of a few powerful groups.”
She argues that many of the historically-established institutions still perpetuate the violation of minority rights and need to be reformed completely if progress is to be made according to CF8M. “Since the social revolt happened (in 2019), many power structures in the system changed, but there are so many tensions and conflicts that are still open,” she said.
Despite the fact that Boric made commitments to tackle many structural barriers to women’s equality, there is still a certain amount of distrust towards the government within social organizations, as the government in Chile has a past of abuse of power and structural oppression. CF8M therefore maintains its autonomy.
“There are so many perspectives in feminism and ours holds the idea that feminism is an ideological perspective of life, it is not only about women’s issues,” Valenz said. “We believe that the goal is to change the structure of the system by erasing structural violence and build a new society with no patriarchy and no capitalism.”
She also explained that certain government policies have left them disappointed, for example the promise made by the government to create at least 250,000 jobs for women as part of the Chile Apoya plan, which for them was too conservative: “900,000 women remain without an occupation, so it is not a solution … so it is a very conservative proposal and we remain a bit suspicious of it. Poverty is still increasing because inflation makes it more difficult for people to access basic goods such as gas, bread and oil and this situation where the government tries to make everyone happy is actually not making anyone happy,” she said.
The Constitutional Convention and the beginning of a new order
The 8M movement has placed much hope in the Constitutional Convention, two thirds of which is made up of independent representatives. She also highlighted that intersectionality is key in understanding what needs to change in Chile. For 8M all rights, be it human, environmental, reproductive, migration or identity, are transversal and need to be taken into account as a whole. “There’s no white paper, but it’s a structural change and in that lies an opportunity,” said Valenz. “We organized several assemblies in order to campaign for the approval of the new constitution and we will work very hard in order to achieve this. The rejection of the draft would signify the closing of the cycle started by the social revolt and a return to the status quo. That cannot happen.”
CF8M has helped write some of the rights and laws approved by the Plenary such as the legalization of abortion, reproductive rights, integral sexual education, identity rights, and the acknowledgement unpaid work.
When speaking of the progress made in recent years, Valenz also mentioned the example of the Chilean Central Bank including unpaid domestic work in its annual assessment of GDP for the very first time in 2020, after a number of feminist organizations rallied in order to bring the topic to the forefront of public debate.
The healthcare system reform which is currently underway in the Convention could also help bridge the gap in equal access to health services. “We see the power in the generation of a single system and a form of state financing that could allow the end of discrimination against women in this area,” said Valenz. She also highlighted that the inclusion of a feminist perspective in healthcare is key and that this also includes mental health.
The movement also seeks to protect women from minority groups. This includes migrant women, afrodescendant women, and transgender women.
A social, feminist revolution on the streets
According to Valenz, the most interesting events happening right now are taking place on the streets and within grassroots movements. Many social organizations have come foward in recent years and spurred important revolutions at the societal level, while also bringing important concepts like reproductive rights and unpaid domestic work into the mainstream. “The invisibilization of feminists in Chile was very long, but today it is back. You can see the girls in the streets with the green scarves and the signs and it is really great to see. There are still so many problems but the feminist movement has made great advances and a great contribution to the changes we are experiencing today,” she said.
“I have lived under the dictatorship in my childhood and what I have always wanted to change the most since then has been the Constitution and this is the case for many left-thinking people and those who were part of the Left Resistance through those years. What is happening now seemed impossible at the time — and even a few years ago. Plurinationality was one of the most impossible sounding things and that has actually happened today, which is wonderful,” she concluded. “We are all together in this and we have confidence in our own power and capability to change things and we will never give this away to anyone.”
Stephanie Iancu just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and she is aiming to go on and earn a postgraduate degree in Journalism. Her main areas of interest are politics, women’s rights, human rights and culture. She is currently taking a gap year and staying in New York while interning at Chile Today.