Date: Fri, 31 Jul 98 23:40:25 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: CHILE: Courts Biased Against Women, NGOs Say
/** ips.english: 452.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-CHILE: Courts Biased Against Women, NGOs Say **
** Written 4:12 PM Jul 26, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
Courts Biased Against Women, NGOs Say
By Lilian Flores, IPS,
23 July 1998
SANTIAGO, Jul 23 (IPS) - When Juana Candia was raped as a teenager
by the man she was later forced to marry, that set of a chain of
events culminating in her being sentenced to 15 years in jail for
killing her abusive husband in self-defence.
Her case is among those dealt with in the recently published
report of the first Tribunal on the Rights of Women, organized by
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and which highlights the
discrimination women face at the hands of Chile's justice system.
The report is a collection of the presentations, arguments and
court rulings made in the four cases analysed in the Tribunal,
which took place in December 1997 and whose main theme was the
overt discrimination that the defendants suffered during the
Candia's case captured the most attention. She became pregnant
after being raped at the age of 15, so her family forced her to
marry the man who raped her in order to "cleanse the honour of the
family". Under Chilean law, a rapist who marries his victim is
exempt from standing trial for the crime.
After that, the 31-year-old peasant woman endured several years
of continuous abuse, which claimed the life of their child, but
her family, the health care providers who treated her after the
beatings, and the police all remained indifferent to her plight.
Candia killed her husband when he subjected her and their
remaining children to yet another bout of violence. Without taking
into account the abuse she had suffered, a court sentenced her to
15 years in jail, later reduced to 10 years, in addition to the
payment of damages to her late husband's family.
The discrimination Candia suffered drew widespread public
attention. Women's organisations launched a campaign against it
and, at the end of last year, the Tribunal on the Rights of
Chilean Women analysed her case, following which she was pardoned
by presidential decree in January 1998.
The director of the non-governmental Women's Institute, Nuria
Nunez, said that interest in holding the tribunal emerged after
the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, during
which countless cases of discrimination were aired.
The Institute looked for cases in which women of different ages
and social backgrounds had been subjected to discriminatory court
rulings without the possibility of appeal. Besides the case of
Juana Candia, which had to do with domestic and sexual violence,
the women looked for others related to social security,
reproductive health and rights, and education.
In one case, a woman was not allowed to renew her private
health insurance policy because she was pregnant. This is
something very common among working women who, although they
belong to the social security system, do not receive benefits if
they are pregnant.
Another case was that of a married, low-income, woman who,
after undergoing a colostomy, had her contraceptive IUD removed.
She was advised not to become pregnant because that would put her
life at risk, but was not offered any other method of
contraception. As a result, after eight months of sexual
abstinence, the woman became pregnant.
Since her doctors had warned her against pregnancy, she
underwent an illegal abortion, as a result of which her
reproductive system suffered irreparable damage and she received a
three-year jail sentence.
Chile is one of fourteen countries where therapeutic abortions
are illegal. The others include Burkina Faso, Egypt, Haiti, the
Philippines, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire)
The fourth case was that of a teenager who, upon becoming
pregnant, was expelled from her denominational school on the
grounds that she was a "bad example". Despite a protection order
filed by her parents, the girl was not readmitted to the school.
Lidia Casas, one of the Tribunal's organisers, argued that a
significant point about the cases presented at the Tribunal was
that they all had to do with the concept of motherhood. "These
are four situations in which women were exposed to discrimination
solely because they are women," she said.
Nuria Nunez pointed out that there was a discrepancy between
public discourse, which claims to value maternity, and social
practice, which turns pregancy into a factor for discrimination
"In our opinion, there is an official discourse in Chile that
talks about motherhood and encourages that traditional role for
women," she said. "In reality, however, pregnant women face a
series of problems that have nothing to do with the fictitious
image which is being sold."
Despite its symbolic character, the Tribunal highlighted the
fact that Chile has discriminatory laws, and lacks norms that
reflect the principle of non-discrimination. The public interest
it generated showed that there is increasing space for ensuring
respect for the rights of women, including freedom from
Paulina Marfull, a journalist who writes for the 'Woman to
Woman' supplement of the newspaper La Tercera, said that one of
the main challenges for the media was to take on sexual violence
and discrimination without any embarrassment. "In Chile, it is
fashionable to be conservative, both in morals and in religion,"
she said. "We have to be able to address those problems properly,
without losing our objectivity."
According to Marfull, the importance of publicising the cases
presented at the Tribunal lies in the fact that it demonstrates
not only to women, but to everyone who suffers discrimination,
that they are not alone, and that their situation does not depend
on some unchanging destiny.
In order to consolidate the space opened up by the tribunal,
the Women's Institute has launched an awareness campaign called
'Zero Tolerance of Sexual Violence against Women'.
The Women's Institute emphasizes that sexual violence against
women should be seen in the context of cultural practices that
place men in situations of power over the lives and dignity of
women, girls and boys.
As part of its campaign, the Institute is promoting a series of
legislative reforms, including the formulation of a clear
description of the types of conduct that constitute sexual
violence, a definition of marital rape as a crime, and the
elimination of terms like "maiden" and "woman of ill repute" from
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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