Q&A: 3 questions for Chile's minister of gender equity

Claudia Pascual, Chile’s minister of Women and Gender Equity. Photo by: Wikimedia / CC BY-SA

As one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies in recent decades, Chile is often cited as a target example for other countries in the region thanks to its success in economic restructuring and subsequent social transitions.

Between 2000 and 2015, the population living in poverty decreased from 26 percent to 7.9 percent, for example, according to World Bank data.

But Chile still lags when it comes to equality and women's rights.

In June 2016, in an effort to formalize women’s empowerment in the country, President Michelle Bachelet created the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity. Claudia Pascual, formerly the leader of the National Women’s Service, made the transition to head of the new gender-focused institution.  

The ministry, along with its staff and offices, was considered a win by women’s rights advocates as an official showing of progress. But one year after its creation, the ministry still has a lot of work ahead.

“I hope that we can make progress from an institution that has specific programs for women to an institutional framework that safeguards and makes sure that women’s inequality is done away with,” Pascual said. “It’s not something we do by ourselves.”

Currently, the ministry is focused on supporting legislative initiatives that will strengthen efforts to combat gender-based violence in Chile, improving the low rates of employment among women and “mainstreaming the gender perspective” in other ministries, according to Pascual.

Devex caught up with Pascual in Santiago to find out what she considers her biggest wins to date, and where she feels Chile still has a long way to go to meet gender equality targets. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

It’s been about a year since the inauguration of the ministry. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

One challenge has been to make progress in the establishment of a new institutional framework, while at the same time holding a debate with the country as a whole and enabling legislation that is much closer to the changes that citizens expect in terms of gender equality. We want our legislation to be much more aligned with the international regulations and recommendations that Chile has received. Chile has been challenged on more than one occasion for that reason.

Why include men and boys in the fight for gender equality?

There is a growing understanding among development groups that empowering women also means working with men and boys to change social attitudes — but these programs still face some resistance. Devex spoke to gender experts to find out more.

There’s also the challenge of generating a debate of more profound cultural change in gender equality involving both empowerment of women but also of men — inviting them to become part of that transformation and promoting an understanding that the support of women’s rights and protection of women is not counter to other rights for themselves or for other sectors.

I believe that that is an important challenge: The challenge of how we make gender gaps visible and how we stay focused on what we still have to do, while at the same time consolidating the progress we have already achieved.

One of the ministry’s roles is to ensure that gender matters are included in all government programs. What are some of the strategies you’re using to do this — and what’s working?

What the national women’s service did for 25 years was to create awareness and transmit a gender perspective when it comes to public policy and to promote certain models, for example, to improve the management of other ministries incorporating gender equality as part of their own activities.

We are presently evaluating that, in order to determine what has been successful, what we can continue to promote and what is not making progress in terms of changing those perspectives.

In that sense we want to build a string of action with other ministries and services so that they not only provide gender training for their own staff, but so I can say: What other strategies might be more successful? What does the Ministry of Public Works suggest that can benefit women and men in terms of overcoming inequality gaps? The idea is not only to receive training but to always ask, for example: Where are we going to build this bridge, where we are going to put lighting, which community is going to benefit, how many women live there?

We also summon a Committee of Ministries for Equality. We have identified priorities areas of work and have invited various ministries: The Ministry of the Interior because dealing with prevention of violence has to be an issue of public security, the Ministry of Defense because of necessary gender perspectives when it comes to training of armed forces. We also invited the Ministry of Agriculture, considering rural agriculture production and the role and importance that women play in that. The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, of Labor, of the Economy … they are all involved, just to mention a few.

I know one of the other main priorities of the ministry is to work to toughen Chile's current legislation on gender violence, as well as legalize abortion in certain cases. What progress have you made there?

“In our country, rape has the face of a minor, and so it’s a permanent concern for us that we’re able to stop sexual violence.”

For the progress we have made with regards to the [latter] legislation, I’d point to the law that enables interruption of pregnancy for three cases [rape, threat to the mother’s life, or a fetal defect that would be fatal], which has been approved in the lower chamber and is presently being discussed by the upper chamber. We hope this will become a law before the end of this administration.

This is a great bill that enjoys majority support from citizens, and has maintained that support throughout the more than two long years that we have been working on it. We also believe that this law will not only allow us to respect the decision made by women and teenagers if they find themselves with these unwanted pregnancies — because it of course does not force them to have an abortion but provides them the option — it will also strengthen health systems to provide accompanying programs such as psychosocial support, especially because one of the causes that we’re dealing with is sexual violence and rape. In our country, rape has the face of a minor, and so it’s a permanent concern for us that we’re able to stop sexual violence, and that involves a lot of protection through public policy.

What other partnerships would you like to see in order to strengthen the role and rights of women in Chile?

Opinion: Addressing the double burden of work for rural women

Global conversations about women’s economic empowerment and unpaid care work exclude some of the women who need it most: Rural women farmers. Jemimah Njuki at Canada’s International Development Research Centre offers practical tips to reverse the trend.

We must always continue to seek further possibilities of alliances. I believe that the partnerships we have today only involve a segment of public and private actors. There isn’t a single initiative that encompasses all enterprises in Chile, for example, and the work of creating awareness is something we need to do with all of them.

We need to involve unions, workers’ unions, as well, because they are active players when it comes to cultural change. I’ve also been thinking about alliances that we could enter into so that between the public and private sectors, we could make domestic work undertaken by women much more visible. In Chile, for the first time, we have a national survey of use of time that was conducted in the metropolitan region, and we are still very far from stating that women contribute a certain figure to our GDP through [unpaid] domestic work. We all work, even if we don’t work outside our homes. It’s time to change our perspective of what work actually means.

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About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.