Bachelet sends bill to create new Women and Gender Equality Ministry

By Belinda Torres-Leclercq 
Published On : Thu, Mar 27th, 2014

Government department could signal a sea change in country with significant gender pay gap, abortion ban and leading regional levels of domestic violence.

A close-up of Michelle Bachelet amongst a crowd

President Bachelet said creating the new ministry would fulfil one of her ‘lifelong’ ambitions. Photo by Belinda Torres-Leclerq / The Santiago Times

President Michelle Bachelet expressed pride in realizing a “lifelong cause” Thursday when she sent a bill to establish a ministry that would champion the country’s women and contribute to diminishing the gender inequality that runs deep and wide across Chilean society.

Leading female figures from the public and private sector were in attendance at La Moneda as the president officially signed a proposal to create the Women and Gender Equality Ministry. The bill has all cabinet ministers’ signatures, and now faces the journey through Congress. Bachelet began her speech by welcoming the audience in the Mapudungun language of the Mapuche, in recognition of the indigenous women’s representatives present, and spared some words for Daniel Zamudio on the second anniversary of the young gay man’s death at the hands of self-labelled neo-Nazis.

“This is a struggle against gender discrimination, discrimination against migrants and youngsters, against disabled people, one’s ethnicity or sexual orientation,” she said.
“This is also a joyful moment for me because this has been one of my life causes. … This institution is something Chilean women deserve, it’s important in the struggle for equality.”

Bachelet saluted historical figures like Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistral for their contribution to the fight for gender equality in Chile and said that the creation of the ministry would honor yesterday’s women as it fights for those of today and tomorrow.

Should it be established, the ministry would be administered by the National Service for Women (Sernam) — currently headed by Communist Party’s (CP) Claudia Pascual — under a new title, the National Service for Women and Gender Equality. A Women and Gender Equality Inter-Ministerial Committee would be established, undersecretaries would be appointed and the ministry would also be represented by officials at a regional level.

The government would also establish a fund to finance projects and programs promoting gender equality enabling targeted combatting of gender inequality. Bachelet also stressed that the burden to battle the marginalization of women must be shared across government.

“We know that women are not solely the responsibility of this ministry but of all ministries, it’s the responsibility of the whole Chilean government,” she said. “There can’t be any neutral politics because neutral politics don’t reach women.”

The former director of U.N. Women also expressed her belief that the government was well positioned to make strides toward gender equality.

“We have some reasons to be optimistic in Chile, and I’m not only saying this because I was reelected,” Bachelet said. “We have a woman heading the Senate — it was hugely significant for us to share a hug [the day I was inaugurated].”

Bachelet also referenced Barbara Figueroa, head of the country’s largest labor union the Central Workers’ Union (CUT), and leading female figures within the student movement as progressive steps.

Barbara Figueroa and Maya Fernández Allende

Head of the Workers Union, Bárbara Figueroa along Socialist Party Dep. Maya Fernández Allende attended the ceremony. Photo by Belinda Torres-Leclerq / The Santiago Times

While Bachelet hailed the advent of Chile’s first female Senate President in Isabel Allende, some critics have argued that her cabinet signals “a regression” in gender equality in politics, as the president assigned fewer women to ministerial roles than during her first term in government.

Parliamentary representation of women in Chile — 14.2 percent in the lower house and 13.2 percent in the Senate — also has some way to go as it sits well below the average for both Latin American and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Similarly, Bachelet pointed out during her speech that Chile’s level of 44.8 percent women in work lags well behind the Latin American regional average of 63. The president said the government would establish 4,500 daycare centers and an additional 1,200 kindergartens in order for women to incorporate themselves in the workplace.

Bachelet announced that her government would double the number of safe houses for abused women and will also modify existing gender violence laws. Chile has some of the highest rates of reported incidents of violence against women and rape in Latin America.

During her campaign, the president also displayed support for the legalization of therapeutic abortion and abortion in the case of rape, thus rewriting the law in one of only six states across the globe where abortion is illegal in all instances.

Source: The Santiago Times

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