Photos and text by Sofia Gutiérrez (translated from Spanish by Sonja Rijnen)-
On the 8th of March 2020, women in Chile made history when approximately 2 million people attended the march marking international women’s day. The social uprisings in Chile in October 2019 gave women even more reason to take to the streets to defend their rights. These pictures are all from this march and highlight some of the key issues facing women in Chile and Latin America.
Today, in the midst of the pandemic that has already infected over 100,000 in Chile (a reflection of the failure and the greatest political instability that the country has seen since the end of the dictatorship) women in Chile are the ones to have been most affected by the quarantine. This is due to an increase in gender-based violence in the home and a significant increase in working hours for women who have to juggle working from home with childcare and looking after the home.
A woman holds a sign during the protests that says “it is more likely that I will die at the hands of a man, than from coronavirus”. Violence against women has increased as a result of lockdown in Chile as well as in many other countries around the world.
The pandemic has also affected indigenous peoples and women who have historically been vulnerable and largely ignored by the Chilean state. Part of the demands behind the social uprisings is the incorporation of a plurinational state that recognises the rights of indigenous peoples as well as the active participation of Chilean and indigenous women in the drafting of a new constitution (if Chileans vote for a new constitution in the plebiscite which will be held in October of this year).
This picture depicts a Mapuche flag, the indigenous group that has resisted the colonisation by the Chilean state the most.
Women from all of Chile’s territories were present to demand their rights. In this picture, you see the phrase “I am a Selk’nam women, present!”. The Selk’nam are an ethnic group that have not been recognised as an indigenous group by the Chilean state who consider the group to be 100% extinct. In reality, however, it is known that there are still living descendants of the Selk'nam, even following the genocides carried out by the Chilean state against them at the end of the 19th century.
The banner “never again without us [women]”, alludes specifically to the lack of representation of Chilean women and indigenous peoples in politics.
The women’s march in Santiago de Chile was full of emotions, sorrow and anger. You could cry, hug, laugh and dance with women who had been strangers to you, but it didn’t matter because, in some way or another, we did know each other.
At various times during the march, you could hear “a rapist in your path” the well-known song written by Chilean women’s group ‘Las Tesis’ that has been performed around the world. The green handkerchief that can be seen worn by many women, represents the request, based on women’s reproductive rights, for women to have the option of free abortions, something that is not yet been achieved in Chile.
In Chile, abortions are only legal if the mother’s life is at risk, in cases of rape or if the fetus will not survive the pregnancy.
Parts of the demands being protested were also marked with the slogan “we do not have a minister”, because Macarena Santelices, now the ex-minister for women and gender equality, defended the military dictatorship which occurred in Chile between 1973 and 1990. She has also been involved in rape cover-ups.
The new minister for women is Monica Zalaquett, who is an entrepreneur and Chilean politician without any knowledge of gender politics, once again reflecting the lack of interest of the Chilean government to make advances towards gender equality.
Without a doubt, women in Chile are being protagonists of historical social changes in their country, and their demands have only increased amidst the pandemic.