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Date: Fri, 31 Jul 98 23:40:25 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: CHILE: Courts Biased Against Women, NGOs Say
Article: 40303
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.29965.19980802001606@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** 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 proceedings.

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) and Somalia.

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 and violence.

"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 discrimination.

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 Chile's legislation.



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