Date: Thu, 20 May 1999 22:35:55 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: WOMEN-CHILE: 'Equal' in Constitution - But no Gender Equity
/** ips.english: 507.0 **/
** Topic: WOMEN-CHILE: 'Equal' in Constitution - But no Gender Equity **
** Written 8:36 PM May 17, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
'Equal' in Constitution - But no Gender Equity
By Gustavo Gonzalez, IPS
17 May 1999
SANTIAGO, May 17 (IPS) - Women in Chile have finally achieved
equal standing in the constitution. But they point out that in
practice, gender equality remains a distant goal, due to continued
discrimination in areas like health, work and the family.
Parliamentary deputies Adriana Munoz and Maria Antonieta Saa of
the co-governing 'Partido Por la Democracia' (PPD) said Congress
should now work on passing laws on the joint administration of
assets in marriage, reproductive rights, and divorce.
Chile is the only country among the so-called Western
democracies to lack a divorce law, which means marriages are
simply annulled, a phenomenon criticised by many as "legal
Saa pointed out that a draft law to legalise divorce, approved
over a year ago by the Chamber of Deputies, remained shelved in
Munoz and Saa made their comments regarding pending tasks after
the passage by Congress, by a broad majority, of an amendment
enshrining equality between men and women in the constitution.
The amendment, which spent nine years crawling through
Congress, was approved by 118 to three votes, with three
abstentions, during a plenary session Saturday in Congress,
located in Valparaiso, 120 kilometres west of Santiago.
The amendment sponsored by former president Patricio Aylwin
(1990-94) introduced two changes into the 1980 constitution, both
of which were regarded as essential by women's groups.
In article 1, the phrase "men are born free and equal in
dignity and rights" was replaced by "persons are born free and
equal in dignity and rights," while article 19 now reads "men
and women are equal before the law."
Although Minister of the National Women's Service (Sernam)
Josefina Bilbao described the constitutional reform as far-
reaching, several senators and deputies who voted for the
amendment considered it a mere semantic change.
Nevertheless, there was wide agreement that it was fitting for
Chile to thus comply with international treaties and
recommendations that states bring their constitutions and laws
into line with proclamations of equality between men and women.
The few votes cast against the amendment and abstentions
corresponded to conservative right-wing parliamentarians, a few of
whom warned that the legislative reform could pave the way for the
legalisation of abortion.
Senator Carlos Bombal of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI)
suggested that article 1 read "persons are conceived free and
equal" rather than "persons are born free and equal."
Minister Bilbao and other officials, however, ruled out any
possibility of the new constitution being linked to the
legalisation of abortion.
Deputies Munoz and Saa said that among the elements leading to
the prevailing inequality of women in Chile was the question of
reproductive rights, and advocated a reinstatement of abortion in
the case of emergencies.
Abortion was totally banned in Chile in 1989, through one of
the last laws decreed by the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet
(1973-90) before the de facto president stepped down in March
The main effect of the ban on abortion, even in cases in which
the life of the mother is in danger, was a rise in illegal
abortions, according to women's groups.
An estimated 150,000 clandestine abortions - a large proportion
of them "back-alley" abortions performed in dangerous conditions -
are practiced annually in Chile, a phenomenon that increases
Deputy Zarko Lucsic of the co-governing Christian Democratic
Party said he was in favour of a continued ban on abortion even in
cases of emergency, arguing that today's advances in medicine
completely eliminated risks to pregnant women.
But Deputy Munoz refuted that argument, pointing to ectopic
pregnancies, for example, which impede the development of the
fetus and pose a mortal risk to the woman.
"I would ask the deputies opposed to 'therapeutic abortion' to
carry a uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes for a while to
understand the risks" of this kind of pregnancy, said the PPD
"Men, who basically run politics, use and abuse these issues,
and it is a lack of respect for women for the issue of therapeutic
abortion to be used as a cheap campaign element," said Munoz,
alluding to the debates on abortion in the campaign for the coming
primaries of the centre-left ruling coalition.
Among the strides made toward gender equality, Saa pointed to a
new law on domestic violence, as well as new safeguards for
But in other areas, significant advances have not been seen,
she added, mentioning the need for joint administration of assets
in marriage, safeguards for reproductive rights, and improved
government programmes for sterilisation and sexual education. Saa
also urged that the issue of "therapeutic abortion" not be
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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