In the everyday imagination of many people in Chile, women have been reduced to a monolithic, static and universal block, caricatured as “Mrs. Juanita“. There are countless occasions in which expressions like this have dominated the political, economic and social space, being used to illustrate externally a life experience that is assumed ignorant in economic, simple, domestic, predictable and uniform issues.
These examples demonstrate how the various ways in which women exist in Chile are made invisible and ignore the fact that socioeconomic, territorial, ethnic and racial inequalities intersect with those of gender and, in turn, exacerbate them.
If already before the pandemic, the gender gap was deep in the country, as evidenced by, for example, that more than 3.7 million women (47.3%) were out of the labor force in 2019, due, in 96.6% of cases, to reasons of permanent family care (INE, 2019); the pandemic has exacerbated this figure. By 2020, this female employment fell by 6.1% (INE, 2021) while unpaid work hours have increased.
In this context, the Chilean constitutional process offers a unique opportunity to create the conditions to reduce gender inequality affecting women and girls in the country. One of the tools to face this challenge is through the incorporation of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights (ESCA) with a gender focus in the new constitutional text. The success of this mission, however, requires a previous work of deconstruction of the stereotypes that for decades have been reducing the experience and agency of women and girls in Chile, such as the “Mrs. Juanita“.
International evidence shows that there is an inversely proportional relationship between the enshrinement of ESCREs and inequality. That is, the fewer protections there are for these rights, the greater the prevailing inequality (Fukuda-Parr et al., 2015). That is why it is not surprising that in Chile, where the guarantee of social rights is scarce and merely rhetorical, the inequality rate is one of the highest in the OECD (2019).
ESCS, which includes the right to quality education and health, better pensions and housing, access to water and environmental protection, have been at the centre of social demands in the country. And it is women who have the least access to these rights. The insufficient guarantee of them, added to the existence of socio-cultural patterns of conduct that encourage the stereotype that it is the man who is the main breadwinner of the family and the woman who is primarily responsible for parenting and domestic chores, have been the perfect recipe for hindering their access to the labour market, limiting their job promotions and depriving them of a decent pension in old age. Without economic security, the autonomy of women and girls is diminished and they are exposed to greater gender-based violence.
From this perspective, the lack of protection of ESICS constitutes a form of institutional violence against women that is exacerbated by the poor provision of quality public services and the progressive privatization of social rights. The cumulative effect of the lack of a national system of care, adequate housing, access to quality sexual and reproductive rights, access to water and sanitation, effective protection against sexual harassment, among many others, disproportionately impacts women and increases the gender gap.
To address this diagnosis, and because social rights are human rights, from the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR, for its acronym in English) we emphasize the need to incorporate economic, social, cultural and environmental rights with a gender focus in the New Constitution and reaffirm our commitment to the task of changing simplistic narratives, sexistists and welfare workers who have depoliticized social rights and fostered the conditions for the occurrence of episodes of structural violence against women.
To do this, we work with more than 50 civil society and academic organizations in the project called “More than Juanitas”. Through this project we seek to provide the evidence and alternatives for the constitutional debate to take into account the structural factors and the diversity of experiences of the mujeres in Chile so that progress can be made in the incorporation of a gender approach built from the ground up.
The content expressed in this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.