Chilean women on the march
On 6th June 2018, 100.000 people, mainly women, demonstrated in Santiago, Chile’s capital, against the precariousness of their lives and conditions, as students, immigrants, workers, mothers and LGBT. This demonstration was called by the Feminist University Network, the Chilean Students Union, the 8th March Network and many others.
In this third national event, the women demanded that the government provide a non-sexist education in all educational institutions and an end to the precarious working conditions affecting women, lack of opportunities and of equality. They also called for a discussion on the country’s restrictive abortion legislation.
There have been previous demonstrations in several cities, the first called by Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less) on 11th May. The focus of this demonstration was against rape, sexual and domestic violence and female murders. A second demonstration took place on16th May, called by the Feminist University Network.
The trigger for this began on 17th April, when students occupied the Austral University in Valdivia, in Chile‘s south. A female university staff member had been sexually harassed by a lecturer. Despite the outcome of the investigation acknowledging the seriousness of the man's actions, he was moved to another university department.
On 23rd April, the University of Chile’s Law School was occupied by its students following a student’s complaint of having been sexually assaulted and harassed by a senior lecturer. After eight months the situation had not been dealt with, the lecturer being a prominent lawmaker and very well connected.
These two cases highlighted a much wider problem. Educational institutions do not have policies to safeguard women. Education is seen as a commodity to be sold to the students and make a profit to those selling it, a system which reinforces patriarchal attitudes towards women. Women are arguing that education should not be sexist and are building support with secondary students, teachers, lecturers and non-teaching staff. They are also building support with women outside of education.
Since April, some 25 educational establishments have been occupied by students. On 1st June, women organised open meetings in their communities in over twenty cities where they discussed their experiences of violence and discrimination. They are now demanding solutions where they participate and are directly involved in decision-making.
President Sebastian Pinera declared he is a feminist and would deal with the problems affecting “our women in Chile”. He has instructed all educational institutions to develop robust policies to tackle sexual violence and harassment but has not responded to the main issue - the demand to develop a non-sexist education system in the country.