On August 3, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a National Action Plan to enact the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. UNSCR 1325 was adopted in 2000 to ensure a gender focus in peacekeeping and security initiatives, calling on governments to take measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence in armed conflict and increase the representation of women in decision-making roles for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.
“In the context of armed conflict, women suffer more than men,” Bachelet writes in the prologue, and “sexual violence against [women] – used as a weapon of war – is sadly common.” By recognizing sexual violence as a strategy used in the context of armed conflict, UNSCR 1325 recognizes that women are affected by conflict differently than men – while also recognizing women's agency in conflict situations, not merely as victims, but as leaders and decision-makers***. In this way, the National Action Plan lays the groundwork for advancing women's personal security, as well as their agency.
As the first country in Latin America to enact this plan, Chile demonstrates a strong step forward for women's rights. It remains to be seen, however, how the Chilean government will define and implement a gender focus in each of its branches of government. Despite having a female President, Chile has some of the most conservative laws regarding women's rights in Latin America, particularly with regards to sexual diversity and reproductive rights.
For one, abortion is illegal under any circumstance in Chile, including in the case of rape or when a mother's life is in danger. In 2008, Chile banned public access to emergency contraception. Additionally, discrimination against sexual minorities is still common, as with the pending case of Karen Atala Riffo, a Chilean judge who lost custody of her three daughters in 2004 because she is a lesbian who lives with her female partner. Given Chile's current laws, will the government's understanding of a gender focus reflect the views of those working to advance women's rights throughout the country?
While the Bachelet government puts to work the National Action Plan to address gender inequality in armed conflicts abroad, Chilean feminists continue the day-to-day work of fighting for gender equality at home. Women's rights activists, many supported by the Global Fund for Women, have worked for gender equality in Chile for decades. Using a variety of strategies, they labor to end gender-based violence and discrimination and to secure equal economic opportunities and political participation for women. In Santiago, for instance, GFW grantee partner Fundación Isis Internacional (Isis International Foundation) has contributed to the eradication of gender-based violence for the last two decades through innovative and informative public campaigns. The organization also serves as the communication and information headquarters of the Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Network for a Life without Violence against Women (REDFEM). In Octava, GFW grantee partner Centro de Atención y Apoyo a Victimas de la Violencia MIRABAL [MIRABAL Center for Attention and Support to Victims of Violence] provides a safe space for women who have experienced gender violence. MIRABAL supports its clients in addressing physical and psychological damage incurred by survivors of violence. GFW grantee partner Solidaridad y Organización Local, S.O.L. [Local Solidarity and Organizing has been working for the past twenty years to build women's leadership in Chile. S.O.L. provides leadership development workshops and leads public campaigns related to political and social issues facing women, ensuring that women are leading efforts to eradicate gender discrimination in Chilean society.
In her prologue to the National Action Plan, Laura Albornoz Pollmann notes: “[the Chilean government] has focused on gender equality as a priority goal, counteracting the mechanisms that create inequality, promoting equal access to women regarding information about their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities.” While it is heartening to see Bachelet's government identify this goal and take positive steps towards achieving it, there is much work to be done to make this a reality throughout the country. Enacting the National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325 is a big step in the right direction. Ideally, the implementation of this plan will provide visibility for the women's movement in Chile – including the work of courageous groups of women like those featured above – and bring women's rights issues to the forefront of the conversation, improving not only Chile's approach to peacekeeping and security initiatives abroad, but also its approach to legislation at home.