Feminism in Chile

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Feminism in Chile has its own liberation language and activist strategies for rights. The Círculo de Estudios de La Mujer (Women's Studies Circle) is one example of a pioneering women’s organization during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1989) which redefined women's responsibilities and rights, linking “mothers’ rights” to women’s rights and women’s civil liberties.[1] The founding members of the Círculo de Estudios de La Mujer consisted of a small group of Santiago feminists who were from the Academia de Humanismo Cristiano. These women gathered "to discuss the situation of women in Chile," their first meeting grew a crowd of over 300 participants and from there challenged the authoritarian life in Santiago. These women helped shape the rights for women in Chile.[2]

Early history of feminism in Chile[edit]

The first female organizations that came to be in Chile started around 1915, but unlike many other countries and their groups, these women were most likely to be in the upper middle class.[3] As such, they were largely able to put together these groups where exploration of the interest in feminism came to be by shedding particular light on the issues that middle to upper-class feminists found to be the most important. One of the earliest examples of this in Chilean history occurred on June 17, 1915, when a young university student, and later a diplomat and suffragist, named Amanda Labarca decided to start a group called the Círculo de Lectura, where she was able to promote Chilean culture towards women.[4] With this, she was able to bring together positivity and change within the women in her community because she strived to ensure that all women could be given a chance to have their voices heard, regardless of their affiliations and social status.[5] Generally speaking, this was what was seen as the beginning of first-wave feminism amongst Chilean women.[6]


The most compactly organized feminist movement in South America in the early 20th century was in Chile. There were three large organizations which represented three different classes of people: the Club de Senoras of Santiago represented the more prosperous women; the Consejo Nacional de Mujeres represented the working class, such as schoolteachers; other laboring women organized another active society for the improvement of general educational and social conditions.[7] The Circulo de Lectura de Senoras was founded in 1915 in Santiago Chile by Delia Matte de Izquierdo.[8] Only one month later, the Club de Senoras was created and founded by Amanda Labarca.[9]

While Chile was very conservative socially and ecclesiastically during this time,[citation needed] its educational institutions were opened to women since around the 1870s. When Sarmiento as an exile was living in Santiago, he recommended the liberal treatment of women and their entrance into the university. This latter privilege was granted while Miguel Luis Amunategui was minister of education. In 1859, when a former minister of education opened a contest for the best paper on popular education, Amunategui received the prize. Among the things which he advocated in that paper was the permitting of women to enter the university, an idea which he had received from Sarmiento. The development of woman's education was greatly delayed by the war between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. President Balmaceda was a great friend of popular education. Under him, the first national high school, or "liceo," for girls was opened, about 1890. By the 1920s, there were 49 national "liceos" for girls, all directed by women. Besides these, there were two professional schools for young women in Santiago and one in each Province.[7]

The Consejo Nacional de Mujeres maintained a home for girls attending the university in Santiago, and helped the women students in the capital city. There were nearly a 1,000 young women attending the University of Chile in the early 20th century. The president of the Consejo Nacional was Amanda Labarca Hubertson. She and her husband both were directors of public schools in Santiago. The former was sent to the US by her government in 1914 to study the educational system. She then became very much interested in the feminist movement, and on returning home was called to direct the Woman's Reading Club of Santiago. The conservative element of this club not caring to engage in community activities, but desiring only the intellectual work of a woman's club, the new Consejo Nacional was formed by the more progressive women. Their members consisted of impressive middle class, aristocratic, woman who had a great deal of influence on their communities, including government and private sectors.[9] Labarca wrote several interesting volumes—one on women's activities in the US and another on the secondary schools of the US. She was accompanied in her work by a circle of women, most, of whom were connected with educational work in Chile. Several women's periodicals were published in Chile during this period, one of note being El Pefleca, directed by Elvira Santa Cruz.[7] Labarca is perhaps considered one of Chile's most prominent feminist leaders.

In a 1922 address given before the Club de Senoras of Santiago, Chilean publisher Ricardo Salas Edwards stated the following: "There have been manifested during the last 25 years phenomena of importance that have bettered woman's general culture and the development of her independence. Among them were the spread of establishments for the primary and secondary education of women; the occupations that they have found themselves as the teachers of the present generation, which can no longer entertain a doubt of feminine intellectual capacity; the establishment of great factories and commercial houses, which have already given her lucrative employment, independent of the home; the organization of societies and clubs; and, finally, artistic and literary activities, or the catholic social action of the highest classes of women, which has been developed as a stimulus to the entire sex during recent years."[7]

A new political body was formed in the early 1920s under the name of the Progressive Feminist Party with the purpose of gaining all the rights claimed by women. The platform was:

  1. The right to the municipal and parliamentary vote and to eligibility for office.
  2. The publishing of a list of women candidates of the party for public offices.
  3. The founding of a ministry of public welfare and education, headed by a woman executive, to protect women and children and to improve living conditions.[10]

The founders of the party carried on a quiet campaign throughout the country. No distinction was made between the social positions of party adherents, the cooperation of all branches of feminine activity being sought to further the ends of the party. The press investigated public opinion regarding the new movement. Congress had already received favorably a bill to yield civil and legal rights to women. The greatest pressure was brought to bear to obtain the concession of legal rights to women to dispose of certain property, especially the product of their own work, and the transference to the mother, in the father's absence, of the power to administer the property of the child and the income therefrom until the minor's majority. It was understood that concession of these rights would elevate the authority of the mother and bring more general consideration for women, as well as benefits to family life and social welfare.[10]

In December 1948, the Chilean Congress had approved a bill granting full political rights to the women of Chile.[11]

During Pinochet's dictatorship throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, coalitions and federations of women's groups—not all of which necessarily designated themselves in name as feminists—gathered in kitchens, living rooms, and other non-political arenas to devise strategies of bringing down the dictator's rule. Because political movements, mostly male-dominated, were oppressed nearly out of existence during the dictatorship, women gathered in a political manner outside of what was traditionally male. Through this they created grassroots organizations such as Moviemento pro emancipacio de la Mujer that is credited with directly influencing the downfall of Pinochet.[12] Pinochet's rule also involved mass exile—an estimation of over 200,000 by 1980. While Chilean women were living in exile in Vancouver, Canada, a feminist magazine created by Latinas, called Aquelarre began to circulate widely.[13]

Today,[when?] the Chilean women's movements continue to advocate for their rights and participation in all levels of the democratic society and through non-governmental organizations. However, a large political barrier for women was broken when Michelle Bachelet became Chile's first female president. Laura Albornoz was also delegated as Minister of Women's Affairs during Bachelet's first term as president. This position's duties includes running the Servicio Nacional de la Mujer or the National Women's Service. Servicio Nacional de la Mujer (SERNAM) - protects legal rights in the public sector. In the beginning of its creation, some opinions were that SERNAM organization was said to have weakened the women's rights agenda due because it wasn't successful at policy influence. The organization was found to be successful at creating programs and legislation that promoted the protection of women's rights at work, school and worked to criminalize domestic violence and protection.[14] The success of this organization is debated, but it has made substantial moves to publicize the issues women face across Chile.

Leaders of the feminist movement[edit]

Chile has been known[by whom?] as one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. Chilean women esteemed Catholicism, which put women in a patriarchal domesticated setting, and was used as reasoning for restricting women to vote. However, because of Chileans' convictions of devout Catholics, it initiated women's desire to vote against an anticlerical liberal party.[15] By 1922, Graciela Mandujano and other women founded the Partido Cívico Femenino (Women's Civic Party) and focused on women getting the right to vote.[16] In 1931, women were granted the right to vote, under conditions. Although most organizations dissolved after suffrage was granted, Partido Femenino Chileno (Chilean Women's Party), founded by Marié de la Cruz, continued to grow and work for more women's rights throughout the years.[16] From the 1930s to the 1960s, women were voting for conservative candidates, making their concerns show by being able to articulate those problems clearly. Chile then fell under a dictatorship, putting a pause on women's rights and development. It was not until the most current leader of feminism in Chile is the first female president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, who became the 34th president in 2006 until 2010. While not immediately re-electable for the next election, she was appointed the first executive director of United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). On March 11, 2014, she became the 36th president, beginning her second term.


  1. ^ Moone, Jadwiga E. Pieper; Campbell, Jean (March 2009). "Feminist Activism and Women's Rights Mobilization in the Chilean Círculo de Estudios de la Mujer : Beyond Maternalist Mobilization" (PDF). CENTER FOR THE EDUCATION OF WOMEN, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  2. ^ "Feminist Activism and Women's Rights Mobilization in the Chilean Círculo de Estudios de la Mujer: Beyond Maternalist Mobilization". 
  3. ^ Lavrin, Asunción. Women, Feminism, and Social Change in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, 1890-1940. Lincoln, Neb.: U of Nebraska, 1995. Print.
  4. ^ "Amanda Labarca". icarito.cl. December 1, 2009. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  5. ^ "La Universidad de Chile y su registro en los sellos de Correos de Chile". uchile.cl. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  6. ^ Franceschet, Susan. "Explaining Social Movement Outcomes." Comparative Political Studies. Acadia University, 1 June 2004. Web. 5 December 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d Pan American Union (1922). Bulletin of the Pan American Union. 54 (Public domain ed.). The Union. pp. 355–. 
  8. ^ "Liberals, Radicals, and Women's Citizenship in Chile, 1872-1930". 
  9. ^ a b Verba, Ericka Kim (2010-03-25). "The Círculo de Lectura de Señoras [Ladies' Reading Circle] and the Club de Señoras [Ladies' Club] of Santiago, Chile: Middle- and Upper-class Feminist Conversations (1915-1920)". Journal of Women's History. 7 (3): 6–33. doi:10.1353/jowh.2010.0453. ISSN 1527-2036. 
  10. ^ a b Pan American Union (1922), p. 632
  11. ^ Pernet, Corinne A. (November 2000). "Chilean Feminists, the International Women's Movement, and Suffrage, 1915–1950 (Woman Suffrage: The View from the Pacific)". Pacific Historical Review. 69 (4): 663–688. JSTOR 3641229. 
  12. ^ Shayne, Julie (2009). They Used To Call Us Witches: Chilean Exiles, Culture, and Feminism. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-7391-1849-8. 
  13. ^ Shayne, Julie (2014). Taking Risks: Feminist Activism And Research In The Americas. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-4384-5245-6. 
  14. ^ Franceschet, Susan (2003-01-01). ""State Feminism" and Women's Movements: The Impact of Chile's Servicio Nacional de la Mujer on Women's Activism". Latin American Research Review. 38 (1): 9–40. 
  15. ^ "CATHOLICISM, ANTICLERICALISM, AND THE QUEST FOR WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE IN CHILE". The Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies. 
  16. ^ a b Power, Margaret (2010-11-01). Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle Against Allende, 1964-1973. Penn State Press. ISBN 0271046716.