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Date: Thu, 20 May 1999 22:35:55 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: WOMEN-CHILE: 'Equal' in Constitution - But no Gender Equity
Article: 64917
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.29485.19990521122137@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** 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 hypocrisy."

Saa pointed out that a draft law to legalise divorce, approved over a year ago by the Chamber of Deputies, remained shelved in the Senate.

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 1990.

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 maternal mortality.

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 legislator.

"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 maternal health.

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 "demonised."


Origin: Montevideo/WOMEN-CHILE/ ----

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