The Constitution of Chile was reformed in 1999 to include specific provisions upholding equality between men and women and to prohibit gender-based discrimination. In general, however, the country remains marked by persistent sexual inequality. Chile is one of the only states in the world to have elected a female president, Michèle Bachelet, and parity is respected within the government.
Women are generally more affected by poverty than men, and suffer discrimination on the job market and in politics, the media and the family. The lack of employment opportunities in rural regions drives many women to migrate to urban areas, which now have a gender imbalance weighted toward women. The number of women heading households in Chile is on the rise.
Progress is still needed to improve the level of protection of Chilean women within the family context. Early marriage and early pregnancies are common, reflecting the fact that the minimum legal age for marriage is just 12 years for women and 14 years for men. A 2004 United Nations report estimated that 12 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.
Chilean law stipulates that the mother and father share responsibility for their children, but when both parents live together, parental authority is held by the father. After a separation, such authority is held by the parent to whom custody has been granted; unless there are extenuating circumstances, this is generally the mother. Divorce has been authorised in Chile only since 2004.
In the matter of inheritance, women are free to inherit and are legally entitled to execute or administer wills in the same way as men. A law passed in 1998 amended the Civil Code in regard to filiation, granting equal rights to all children (irrespective of the status of their parents) and improving the inheritance rights of widows.
Chile has made some progress in protecting the physical integrity of women, yet violence against women remains quite common. In urban areas, half of women in relationships have suffered some form of violence at the hands of their partner; the situation is estimated to be more severe in rural regions. The government recently passed a new law that broadened the definition of domestic violence, made provisions for mechanisms to protect victims and restricted the possibility of informal settlements between the affected parties. An additional law was passed in 1999 that extended the legal definition of rape and increased the punishments for offenders. The 1999 law also removed the criterion that a woman had to be of “good reputation” to be considered a victim. Spousal rape is also punishable under the law in Chile.
There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation is practised in Chile, nor that it is a country of concern in relation to missing women.
The ownership rights of women are quite well respected in Chile, particularly in relation to access to land. In 1992, the government initiated a programme to distribute land, with a priority for granting title deeds to poor farmers and female heads of households. Women received just under half of the land distributed, but were generally given smaller plots of land.
For married women in Chile, access to property other than land is contingent on the type of marriage settlement under which they wed. In the past, ownership rights were granted solely to husbands. A new law, adopted in 1994, introduced the option of spouses having joint ownership.
Women face several restrictions in terms of access to bank loans, even though they generally have a better repayment rate than men. Several banks have created loans specifically for women, who represent more than one-third of borrowers in Chile.
The state guarantees the civil liberties of Chilean women; there are no reported restrictions on their freedom of movement or freedom of dress.
CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2004), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Chile, Fourth Periodic Report of States Parties, CEDAW/C/CHI/4, CEDAW, New York, NY.
CESCR (Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights) (2004), Considerations of Reports Submitted by State Parties Under Article 16 and 17 of the Covenant: Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Chile, E/c.12/.1/Add.105, UN, New York, NY.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), ILC (International Land Coalition) (2004), Rural Women’s Access to Land and Property in Selected Countries: Progress Towards Achieving the Aims of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, FAO Gender and Population Division, IFAD Technical Advisory Division, and ILC, Rome.
JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) (2006), Chile: Country Gender Profile, JICA, Tokyo.
Ministère de la Sante du Chili (2000), Estudio National de comportamiento sexual, Primeros Analisis 2000, Commission nationale sur le SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), Agence Nationale de recherche sur le SIDA, Chile.
Morrison, A.R. and M.B. Orlando (1999), “Social and Economic Costs of Domestic Violence: Chile and Nicaragua”, in Andrew R. Morrison and Maria Loreto Biehl (eds.), Too Close to Home: Domestic Violence in the Americas, Inter-American Development Bank, Washington DC.
SERNAM (National Women’s Service) (2001), Detection and Analysis of the Prevalence of Family Violence, SERNAM, Santiago.
UN (United Nations) (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY.
UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) (2003), Not a Minute More: Ending Violence Against Women, UNIFEM, New York, NY.
US Department of State (2007), Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Chile, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.