A recent study by the National Human Development Report (UNDP) for Chile has revealed that more than 60% of Chileans are opposed to full gender equality.
This percentage was broken up into categories: 18% of those opposed to gender equality were "machistas" who believe men should hold the power in a society; 18% were "traditional" in the sense that they believed in having clearly defined roles for men and women and not challenging these roles; and another 26% were pragmatists who believed that even though traditional roles might be slightly modified, men and women are fundamentally different and traditional "values" (i.e., women at home with the kids and men running the political/economic/cultural show) should be maintained.
Not surprisingly, Chile is one of the most retrograde countries in Latin America when it comes to women's rights. The country legalized divorce in 2004. Upon legalization, over 500,000 women rushed for divorces to escape from domestic violence and abuse; they promptly discovered that finding and surviving from work in a society where the wage gap between men and women is at 20% for jobs not requiring higher education and 40% for jobs requiring a university degree or more (Chile has one of the biggest wage gaps in the world) is a daunting prospect. Chile has the lowest female participation rate in the work force in all of Latin America.
Meanwhile, 90% of low-income women suffer from domestic violence. The marriage age in Chile is 12, and more than 10% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, widowed, or divorced. Abortion, even in cases of rape and incest and even if the health of the mother is in danger, is illegal, as is emergency contraception; this is probably directly connected to the fact that women make up only 13% of parliament.
All of this, and Chile had a progressive female president for four years! Despite Michelle Bachelet's creation of a 50-50 cabinet and her push for women's equality, the country obviously still has a long way to go. Machismo is a pervasive social and cultural ideology throughout Latin America, and its effects can be seen not only in the troubling statistics, but in the daily lives and struggles of women throughout the region; in the repression they face from the government and their male partners and family members, in the harassment they put up with in the street, in the battles they face to challenge traditional gender roles.
It's going to take more than a female president and female politicians to affect change in countries like Chile; it's going to take re-education from the bottom up that challenges the fundamental machista belief that men dominate women.
Photo credit: Majo Photo