Machismo in Chile: Serious Barrier to Gender Equality

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

Sarah Menkedick is a freelance writer currently based in Oaxaca, Mexico. She has spent the last five years teaching, writing and traveling on five continents. She regularly writes about women's rights.

Comments (3)

  • A T
    May 23, 2010 @ 02:08PM PT
    A T

    y yo que nunca pense que leeria algo acerca de mi pais, Chile, en esta página... vaya

  • juan ra
    May 24, 2010 @ 11:11PM PT
    juan ra


    I usually really like your posts, so please don't think I just want to say this to attack you.

    I think you are throwing a very dangerous blanket statement on Latin Americans, which sounds too much like culture blaming.  By defining machismo as a pervasive social and cultural ideology, you are making it sound like the entire region is inherently backwards.

    Culture is extremely fluid and changes depending on context - in this case there are various patriarchal contexts.  In the cities, patriarchy is less powerful because of more opportunities for education and for women in particular.  In rural areas, you have more "in your face" patriarchy because there are less opportunities. This will vary from region to region.

    Regardless, your language accuses 1 country in particular, and an entire set of countries in general, for being oppressive to women in a particular way. Your language places the 1st world as free of this "culture" (machismo), and essentializes Latin America, turning it into the "other".  This is a very dangerous move, because I for one do not appreciate being essentialized this way, especially when I see so much patriarchy and misogyny in your country.

    Patriarchy crosses borders, and ALL of the attitudes you mention in your article are applicable to the United States.  Some areas exhibit a more blatant form of patriarchy than others (living in Texas at the moment, I can tell you there's NO difference in the way traditional Texans, white privileged Texans, treat women).

    It is great that you can show us statistics, since they are troubling, and there are many ways to approach this issue.  However, your argument essentializes the many cultures of Latin America and labels them under machismo, when the United States has the same machismo.  Patriarchy is very systematic in the US, but it is a lot easier to go after the macho or the muslim and point fingers at them.  In the process, the women are used as tools to attack a culture that the 1st world sees as inherently inferior, and this I do not appreciate.

    Please understand that you're looking at us from a US perspective, the new colonizer, and take this privilege into account when defining a foreign problem.

  • Lorena Correa
    Jun 13, 2010 @ 06:54AM PT
    Lorena Correa

    I'm a Chilean woman, and although I recognize a lot of machismo in my country, there are some things that are wrong. It is not legal to marry at 12, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years and between 16 and 18 with the permission of parents or legal guardian applicable, and this rarely happens. At present, the average age a woman marries is  approximately 26 years, so there is not remotely a 10% of married women between 15 and 19 years, including a man is sentenced to years in prison for having sex with a minor.

    It is true that abortion is illegal, but the morning-after pill is available in pharmacies and public health services and more so in case of violation. Read your report gave me the impression that I'm living in a country like Palestine, but things are not that extreme.  But violence against women and the wage differential is still very present and things that we need to change.


    Sorry if there are errors in my English.

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