CHILE: Activists Press Candidates to Take a Stance on Women's Rights

  • by Daniela Estrada (santiago)
  • Tuesday, September 29, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

The private non-profit group Comunidad Mujer organised a Sept. 25 seminar titled 'Voz de Mujer 2010. Hacia una cultura de igualdad y corresponsabilidad social' (Women’s Voices 2010: Towards a culture of equality and shared social responsibility), which was attended by the four candidates standing for president in the Dec. 13 elections.

'I think there is a consensus in all the government’s programmes on reconciling and integrating family life and work duties, supporting shared social and family responsibilities, and increasing women’s participation in positions of power,' Susana Carey, the head of Comunidad Mujer, told IPS.

'In the past, these issues were not even talked about, yet today we are seeing points of agreement,' she said.

However, 'I would like to see more concrete measures, the grounding of ideas in reality and a clearer sense of how all this is going to work out in practice. I think (the candidates) need to move from statements of good intentions to actual deeds: are they going to have women in their government or not, and what kind of gender perspective will be reflected in the different public policies they are going to implement,' she said.

In this South American country of 17 million, 52.5 percent of voters are women.

The presidential candidates for the 2010-2014 period are business tycoon Sebastián Piñera of the rightwing Coalition for Change, former president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1994-2000) of the governing Coalition (Concertación) of Parties for Democracy, former minister Jorge Arrate of the left-wing Juntos Podemos Más, and young independent lawmaker Marco Enríquez-Ominami.

The centre-left Concertación is made up of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), Socialist Party (PS), Party for Democracy (PPD) and Radical Social Democratic Party (PRSD), while the opposition Coalition for Change is comprised of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), National Renewal (RN) and Chile Primero (Chile First).

Both Arrate and Enríquez-Ominami left the PS to launch their candidacies outside the ruling coalition, because they are critical of what they call the government’s 'neoliberal' social and economic policies.

They also point to the political wear and tear on the Concertación, which has governed Chile since the return to democracy in 1990 after 17 years of dictatorship.

However, Bachelet's popularity ratings remain extremely high, at above 70 percent.

The socialist president has an excellent record of promoting different programmes and legal initiatives with a gender focus. Of particular note are a pension reform providing special benefits for women, a law equalising men’s and women’s wages, and another that allows women to breast-feed their children under the age of two during working hours.

The Bachelet administration also created a widely praised programme of comprehensive care for early childhood, increased the number of free public crèches four-fold, and promoted better working conditions for domestic employees, among other advances.

Along the same lines, at the Sept. 25 seminar and debate, Comunidad Mujer proposed a package of measures focused on work and politics.

On work-related issues, they called on the presidential candidates to change the Labour Code regulations on crèches, which at present are acting as a disincentive for companies to employ women. They also want more flexible working hours, greater flexibility for pre- and post-natal maternity leave, and employment training for poor women.

Forty-one percent of Chilean women are active in the labour market, much lower than the Latin American average of 53 percent.

The proposal that raised the most debate was the flexibilisation of daily working hours. Candidates Frei, Arrate and Enríquez-Ominami said that before such a policy was formulated, it was necessary to strengthen unionisation and collective bargaining for all workers.

Bachelet had promised to broaden these rights during her administration, but the economic crisis led her to postpone sending a draft law on the matter to Congress, to avoid raising obstacles for job creation.

Labour Minister Claudia Serrano announced that the controversial draft law would not be discussed until next year.

'We haven’t studied the question of labour negotiations exhaustively. However, as a general principle, we believe the unions have a key role to play in negotiating greater labour flexibility for their workers. If this requires a change in the law, new laws will have to be passed,' said Carey, of Comunidad Mujer.

On the political front, the group invited the presidential candidates to ensure a balance of women and men in state and government bodies, and to support the quota law introduced by Bachelet to Congress, where it is bogged down, as well as to establish limits to the reelection of persons occupying elected posts.

Although Bachelet appointed a cabinet with parity between the sexes, and tried to follow the same principle in other public bodies, there is no legal obligation to do so, which is a matter of concern to women’s organisations.

Chile’s binominal electoral system (two senate and lower house seats per district), which benefits coalitions and excludes small independent parties, as well as the lack of internal democracy within the parties, work against the presence of women on candidate lists for legislative elections. Only 16 percent of parliamentary candidates for the December elections are women.

Last week the non-governmental Corporación Humanas, which works for gender justice, launched a blog where women can get information on which to base their voting choices in the elections.

Corporación Humanas drew up a collection of political demands on the basis of work carried out by different women’s organisations, like the Movement for the Emancipation of Chilean Women, the Observatory on Gender and Equity, the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network, and the Chilean Network against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

These organisations are demanding passage of legislation that would allow citizens to present draft laws to parliament. The goal is to capitalise on the progress in terms of women’s participation in politics seen during the Bachelet administration, by maintaining gender parity in the cabinet and pressing for a law to ensure that 50 percent of candidates for members of Congress, mayors and town councillors are women.

Another longstanding demand voiced by women's groups is the decriminalisation of abortion and the free provision of emergency contraception — known as the morning-after pill - to all women who need them.

They also want 'the design and approval of integrated legislation, and coordinated public policies, to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women and femicide (gender-related murders of women),' and 'the inclusion of domestic and caring work in the National Accounting System.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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