Producing Shadow Reports

Beijing+5 and Women's Human Rights

Links of Interest

Contacting IWRAW



    Country Reports


Combined second and third report dated 9 March 1995 (CEDAW/C/CHI/2)

Chile, a country that had experienced one of Latin America's lasting and progressive democracies before 1973, and one of the most prolonged and reactionary dictatorships from 1973-1990,1 began a process of redemocratization in 1990 with the inauguration of the civilian government and the reopening of the Chilean congress. The transition, however, has proceeded in the context of a constitutional, legal, political and psychological legacy from the dictatorship period, as well as constraints imposed by the military's participation in the process.2 Thus, while Chile has embarked on the process of modernization and often has been seen as a model of "political stability and economic creditworthiness in the hemisphere,"3 the political reforms leading to the dismantling of post-authoritarian institutions (such as the constitution) and addressing issues related to the enjoyment of human rights, have proceeded slowly.

The dictatorship period profoundly affected women and their social roles, and the traditional images and expectations of women have not changed during the transition period. Under dictatorship, the socially conservative government based its policies on a traditional conception of women's roles. The Pinochet regime discouraged women's participation in the labor force and public life, promoted their return to family life (such as by treating women workers as a secondary force and discriminating against them in favor of male workers), and emphasized their maternal duties. Until 1986, the Pinochet government upheld the marriage law (potestad marital) giving rights to husband over wife and her property based on the principle that the husband owed protection to his wife in exchange for her obedience.4 However, the government's reinforcement of women's private sphere role led to their assuming a new public role from the 1970s onward: as the regime claimed to be defending the family, it had to respond to women's denunciations of government's repression against their family members. In fact, women's organizations, such as the Families of the Detained and Disappeared and the Families of Political Prisoners, stood at the forefront of the human rights movement in Chile by raising social awareness and protesting the brutalities of the dictatorship.5 Analysts agree that, although women initially participated in these organizations in their traditional roles, with time many women's groups of various orientations started developing a sense of gender identity.

By the 1980s, the women's movement became increasingly politicized and diverse, and it included both anti-dictatorship human rights groups and explicitly feminist organizations.6 But according to María Elena Valenzuela, the traditional image of women - as uninterested in competing with men in public life and politics - persists. Feminism continues to be seen and is depicted as an anti-male movement that is not representative of the majority of women.7 Nonetheless, Valenzuela also acknowledges that despite continuing discrimination against women in various spheres of Chilean society, the mobilization of the women's movement has, along with other factors, resulted in a growing acceptance of the idea that true democratization must include a transformation in gender relations.8

Chile's population of 14 million is approximately ninety percent Mestizo (of mixed native American and European ancestry), five percent European, and five percent indigenous.9 The indigenous communities are Mapuche (also called Araucanian), Aymara, Rapa Nui, Quechua, Colla, Alacalufe, and Yagán (native people totaled 1.3 million in 1992). The official language is Spanish (called Castellano in Chile). Approximately 76.7 percent of the population are adherents to Catholicism, 13.2 percent are Evangelical or Protestant, and the Jewish, Muslim and Christian Orthodox communities, combined, are 4.2 percent.

Government and Politics

Chile has a presidential political system with a bicameral legislature (Senate and a Chamber of Deputies). The second democratically elected government, the center-left Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (a coalition of the Christian Democratic Party, PDC; the Socialist Party, PS; the Party for Democracy, PPD and other smaller parties) of president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, succeeded Patricio Aylwin Azócar in March 1994. The presidential term is six years. The next presidential election is scheduled for 11 December 1999.10 The formally independent judiciary continues to be subject to considerable military influence.11

The political left and right have traditionally disagreed about whether or not there should be unelected senators, and concerning the role and composition of the National Security, the electoral system, and other institutional arrangements, but generally there has been a consensus on the economic direction of the country and strong preference for a liberal market economy. The left tends to support granting the state more power to intervene in the economy. Some of the current policy debates include the need for reform of education and health systems.12

The Constitution

The military-designed Constitution came into existence in 1980. In July 1989, following a plebiscite on the Constitution, the opposition won some important democratic changes including expansion of civilian representation in the National Security Council. The number of elected senators was increased from twenty-six to thirty-eight, and the process for amending the Constitution was made easier.13

1973-1990 Dictatorship

On 11 September 1973, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte and his secret police overthrew the Marxist Salvador Allende government in a bloody coup and initiated a period of harsh military rule (1973-1990), in which, according to the "Rettig Report" released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1991, 3,190 people were murdered or "disappeared"14 and hundreds were forced into exile.15 According to analysts, the 1973 military coup d'etat was a result of the "breakdown of political institutions, ideological polarization, economic crisis, US meddling and calls for military intervention by some sectors of the society."16

The Transition from Dictatorship/Human Rights

The transition to civilian rule was organized and conducted, although under pressure from emerging social forces, by the military regime. The transition occurred in a context of eroding international and domestic support for the dictatorship, the fading Cold War, and the reemergence of political opposition. In the December 1988 plebiscite, the dictator General Augusto Pinochet failed to win a majority that would have guaranteed him another eight-year term. This led to the December 1989 democratic elections which delivered victory to the center-left Concertación candidate Aylwin.17

Observers agree that generally the legacy of dictatorship was more positive in Chile than in other countries of the region (Brazil, Argentina, Central America and others), especially in the economic sphere. The military junta left a fairly strong and decentralized economy with a vibrant and diversified private sector.18 On the other hand, the continued military influence on Chile's political life and the political right's veto power in the Senate have constrained both post-dictatorship governments and prevented them from addressing human rights issues and fundamental social and political transformation. The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (the Rettig Commission) established in 1990, for instance, investigated deaths and disappearances but excluded numerous cases of other types of widespread and gross abuses, such as torture. In addition, although the report increased society's awareness of the horrifying abuses and led to the discovery of mass graves around the country, the military has maintained that the abuses occurred in the context of a "state of war" and were therefore justified by the effort to fight terrorists.19 Even though approximately twenty lawsuits have been filed in Chilean courts against Pinochet since January 1989 alone, the 1978 amnesty law, Pinochet's immunity as lifetime senator, and the continued strong position of the military in Chile have assured impunity and safety to Pinochet and the former torturers.20

Despite the democratic elections, Pinochet (until his arrest last year; see The Case Against Augusto Pinochet below) had remained a powerful and influential figure in politics, seriously impairing the work of the elected governments. For instance, President Frei's attempts to carry out constitutional reforms have been vetoed by Pinochet's supporters. Even thought both the Aylwin and Frei governments have undertaken an extensive program of penal and judicial reform, the military justice structure put in place by Pinochet has remained virtually intact and has been a stronghold of authoritarianism.21

The Case Against Augusto Pinochet

Nevertheless, in an important development for the human rights movement both in Chile and around the world, and an undoubted upset for former military rulers, Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998, as he was recovering from back surgery. He was arrested at the request of the Spanish government on behalf of Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón.22 Garzón wants to put Pinochet on trial on charges of genocide, murder, torture and kidnapping (including cases of Spanish citizens and other foreign nationals) during the 1973-1990 dictatorship. In March 1999, the British Law Lords ruled that, in spite of his status in Chile, he does not have immunity and should answer for cases arising after 1988 (when Britain signed the UN Convention Against Torture). In April 1999, Home Secretary Jack Straw allowed the extradition proceedings to go forward.23 As of May 1999, Pinochet faced a costly legal battle against extradition to Spain. But some experts claim that even if Pinochet is extradited to Spain, he is likely to be released for humanitarian reasons, due to his age and health problems.24

While some in Chile and abroad called the proceedings against Pinochet politically motivated and a "transgression against the legal sovereignty of Chile,"25 dictatorship victims and human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, hailed the decision to finally bring Pinochet to justice after twenty-five years as a groundbreaking case in human rights. If the extradition proceedings go forward, the precedent will make it possible for any country to bring heads of other states before courts to answer for crimes they committed while in office. 26

Yet Chilean society is divided on the question of what should happen to Pinochet. According to an April 1999 poll by the Center of Studies on Contemporary Reality (CERC), thirty-one percent of those interviewed believed that Pinochet should stay in London, and forty-one percent stated that he should be put on trial in Chile. Seventeen percent of respondents wanted him to return to Chile and not face prosecution. Other polls, however, found that fifty-five percent of respondents thought that existing legal and political conditions in Chile are not conducive to bringing the former dictator to justice.27

The Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church was a source of significant opposition to the Pinochet regime and played a key role in the protection of human rights. The Church supported human rights organizations by providing social services and shelter to persecuted intellectuals and politicians. With the restoration of democracy, the Catholic Church has returned to traditional functions as provider of pastoral and charitable services. However, it has retained its role as a voice of what it defines as morality and exerts influence on issues concerning education, morality, family relationships, extramarital sex, birth control and abortion. For example, the Church has advocated measures opposed to some of the progressive initiatives by a government women's agency with ministerial status created in 1991, the Sevicio Nacional de la Mujer (National Women's Service; SERNAM), especially in the area of family and social life, such as abortion, family planning and divorce.28

Freedom of Expression


Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote in a November 1998 report that "Chile is not a country in which journalists or opposition politicians are typically physically harassed or harmed by individuals tied to the state structures."29 But the existence of many restrictive laws dating back to the dictatorship era, as well as deeply rooted practices predating dictatorship, remain in effect and constrain reporters. The existing laws criminalize criticism of public officials, allow military tribunals to put journalists on trial for sedition, and control television broadcast licensing. A new press law has been stalled in parliament for the last five years.30 Despite the fact that the laws rarely lead to prosecution, they pose a continuing threat of legal action and journalists maintain that it hampers their ability to work freely. In 1998-1999, there have been several instances of harassment against journalists. In January 1998, host of the TV news show "Plan Zeta," Rafael Gumucio, and reporter for Cosas magazine, Paula Coddou, were jailed for criticizing Supreme Court Chief Justice Servando Jordán. Jordán also sued journalists José Ale and Fernando Paulsen of the daily La Tercera, which led to their indictment in January 1999.31 The April 1999 instance of censorship and the confiscation of the "The Black Book of Chilean Justice" written by investigative reporter Alejandra Matus, which details corruption, negligence and nepotism under dictatorship, has spurred a public debate about freedom of expression in Chile and led to protests by several media outlets and the Chilean Journalists' Association. Copies of the books were pulled off bookstore shelves by security forces on the order by Judge Ismael Huerta following a lawsuit filed by Justice Jordán.32

Notwithstanding the signs of increasing public debate and protest against limits on reporting, many editors still practice self-censorship and the concentration of media ownership has been growing,33 which limits the scope of information available to the public. Two media companies tied to conservative politics control almost all newspapers in the country. The only independent papers, La Epoca and Hoy, were closed because of financial problems in 1998. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), eighty-five percent of television news stories in Chile used government sources as the main basis for reporting.34

Indigenous Communities

Indigenous people, who constitute more than five percent of Chile's population - with Mapuches community of one-million being the most numerous - have been the poorest, most neglected and least integrated groups in Chile. The Law for Protection, Support, and Development of Indigenous Peoples adopted at the end of Aylwin's presidency in 1993 was designed to rectify this situation. It provides a legal definition of "indigenous person," makes racial discrimination illegal, recognizes Indian communities as legal entities, provides a framework for the protection of Indian lands and establishes a scholarship fund for indigenous students. It also contains a provision important for gender relations by requiring wife's or conjugal partner's signature in sales of land.35 But government policies have been unclear on the question of specific programs for Chile's indigenous communities, including the Northern area populated by Aymara and Quechua-speakers, and the Southern region inhabited by Mapuche Indians.36

Mapuches' Territorial Disputes

Since February 1999, several conflicts over land have erupted between indigenous groups and logging companies, particularly in the South. The dispute involves some 200,000 hectares of ancestral land that is occupied by logging companies. Indigenous groups protested the environmental damage caused by the companies, including the destruction of old rare tree species.37 Environmental and indigenous groups have protested a remark by a business leader and a member of the government Commission to negotiate the dispute, Felipe Lamarca, who suggested as a solution, "converting Mapuche Indians into entrepreneurs of the logging business."38

In another dispute, Mapuche communities, along with a network of social and ecological organizations, have vigorously opposed the construction of the Ralco hydroelectric dam on the upper Biobio river by the Spanish-Chilean Endesa company. The construction requires the eviction of more than eighty indigenous families of the Pehuenche community (Mapuche group).39 Eight families have refused to leave the land, and advocates have claimed that the others were tricked or unfairly pressured to move against their will. In March 1999, two elderly Mapuche sisters, Berta and Nicolasa Quintreman, were put on trial at a military court for their activities against the project. Moreover, the government has put on trial on charges of "violent infiltration in an ethnic conflict" and has expelled a Spanish and a US citizen and attempted to expel a French citizen participating in the protests."40 The protesters have argued that voices of indigenous representatives were not included in the planning process of the Ralco project, which threatens the ancestral culture of the Pehuenche and amounts to an "ethnocide."41

Aymaras and the Environment

In the North, indigenous Aymara groups and environmental activists asked President Frei not to sign the decree which would remove from protection one-third of the Lauca National Park, the largest nature reserve in Northern Chile. The government wants to open the area for exploration by mining companies of its copper, molybdenum, gold, silver, sulfates and other minerals. Activists argue that the area is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including flamingos, sea gulls, vicuñas, llamas, alpacas, and chinchillas.

Observers point out that the indigenous populations held 31 million hectares in Chile in 1540 and they have control over about 300,000 hectares today. They argue that the existing land is not enough for survival especially when forest logging activity damages the land and environmental manipulation leads to the drying up of rivers. According to Francisco Caquilpan Lincuante, President of the Mapuche Corporation of Development and Communications, there has been a trend of return of some indigenous Mapuches from cities to the land. 42

Economic Situation

After almost fifteen years of consistent economic growth and a decreasing rate of inflation, since 1997 Chile has been in a recessive period as a result of the Asian crisis. The economic growth rate decreased, from 7.1 percent in 1997 to four percent in 1998, and during the last quarter of 1998 economic activity fell by 2.8 percent. The internal adjustment carried out by the government has been accompanied by negative shocks in the principal export products. The price of copper in international markets has fallen to the lowest level in fifty years, the agricultural sector faces the heaviest drought of the century, and there is a sharp decrease in the fish catch. According to Carlos Massad, president of the Chilean Central Bank, these trends are expected to improve during the second half of 1999.43

Even though the general macroeconomic situation of the country has improved during the last fifteen years, Chile continues to have one of the worst disparities of income distribution in the world. It has only slightly improved in the last several years in the urban areas but it has worsened in rural areas. The share of the overall income for the poorest twenty-five percent in rural areas has decreased from 9.3 percent in 1987 to 8.4 percent in 1996.

The unemployment rate rose from 5.3 percent at the beginning of 1998 to 7.5 percent at the end of 1998. The government forecasts that these conditions will improve if, as expected, the overall economy improves during 1999.

Worker Rights

According to the 1998 annual report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Union (ICFTU), most Chilean labor laws originated in the dictatorship period, and a draft of a new law has been stalled in the parliament.44 But the National Union Center (CUT; Central Unitaria de Trabajadores) has criticized the government-introduced draft for its failure to broaden the collective bargaining right to the public sector. As of 1997, public employees in Chile were barred from forming unions and can only join associations that do not engage in collective bargaining or go on strike.45 The existing labor law makes it difficult to organize in many sectors. Additionally, most workers have individual employment contracts and employers retain the right to incorporate clauses in the contract that bar employees in supervisory positions from collective bargaining. Agricultural, construction and other workers are defined as "temporary labor," which leaves them with highly restricted collective bargaining rights dependent on employers' discretion. CUT reported that anti-union practices by employers increased in 1997, and included breaking down companies into smaller units and instances of firing workers who participated in collective bargaining.46


The following material on the status of women under specific CEDAW articles was compiled based on reports prepared by the following Chilean NGOs: Instituto de la Mujer ("Preparación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW"), Corporación de la Mujer La Morada, Comité Latinoamericano y del Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (CLADEM), and Foro Abierto de Salud y Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos ("Reporte Alternativo al III Informe Periódico del Estado del Cumplimiento de CEDAW"). The information under Article 14 on rural women was based in the subsection of the Instituto de la Mujer's report prepared by Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo de la Mujer, CEDEM ("Mujeres Rurales").


Even though the Chilean Constitution requires state agencies to respect and encourage the enforcement of the rights contained in the constitution and in the international treaties ratified by Chile, women's NGOs claim that the tribunals have been slow to incorporate these tools as elements for making their decisions.47 For example, in one of the cases presented by Instituto de la Mujer's Report48 a girl was expelled from a Catholic high school because she was pregnant. In ruling on a lawsuit filed against the school, the Court issued a decision that did not mention CEDAW, even though the plaintiff cited the treaty in her complaint. Moreover, CEDAW is not well known either among public workers or citizens in general.49

In 1990, the new democratic government created the Servicio Nacional de la Mujer (SERNAM), a government agency with the mission of designing public policies oriented toward women, coordinating national policies and actions with the other ministries, evaluating the execution of the policies from the perspective of CEDAW, and making and promoting studies about the situation of women and family.50 In spite of these stated objectives, SERNAM's effectiveness has been hampered by the government's overall lack of gender awareness.51


In 1993, SERNAM launched the national Plan de Igualdad de Oportunidades para las Mujeres 1994-1999 (Plan for Equal Opportunities for Women 1994-1999). The objective of this plan was to guarantee equal opportunity to women and men, and to bring about cultural change toward the legitimization of equality as a social value. Even though this plan opened a window for the creation of better opportunities for women and eliminated most discriminatory legislation, its mission has been hampered by the constraints of traditional society. As a result, the program focuses primarily on the status of women as it relates to conjugal and reproductive roles.52


According to the 1998 United Nations Human Development Report, Chile occupies the sixty-first place in the Gender Empowerment Measure Index which ranks all the United Nations member nations.

Women's representation in the House of Commons stands at ten percent, and in the Senate it is four percent. Even though there is a draft law designed to address the underrepresentation of women in the legislative branch, the project has not been discussed since the executive branch of the government has not made it a priority.53


According to Instituto de la Mujer, the Chilean educational system discriminates against pregnant young women. Even though the official Circular 247(1991) prohibits discrimination in educational institutions financed by public funds, there have been cases of expulsion of female students due to their pregnancy. Circular 247 is not applicable in the private educational system, which allows discrimination to go unchecked. Discrimination against pregnant women exists in primary and secondary educational institutions, as well as in higher education.54

Instituto de la Mujer reported that a pregnant student from Universidad de Los Andes was suspended for one year. In a lawsuit brought by the student's family against the university, the court decided that the institution had the right to expel the student. The court declared that the student did not meet requirements established by university statutes, since at the moment of being admitted to the institution students are supposed to accept these regulations. Article 27 of the regulations stipulate that students should make an effort in reach the best scientific, cultural and moral goals. If the school deems their behavior to violate these regulations, it reserves the right to apply a penalty, including the cancellation of admission. A bill addressing this problem was introduced by a group of parliamentarians, but it has been stalled for five years.55


The unemployment rate at the beginning of the decade was 7.4 percent; the unemployment rate for women was 9.2 percent, and men's unemployment stood at 6.6 percent. Even though the female unemployment rate has decreased proportionally with the decrease in overall unemployment during this decade, the gap between female and male unemployment rate has not changed significantly. In 1990, the female unemployment rate was 1.39 times higher than the male unemployment rate, reaching the highest difference in 1992. The unemployment rate for 1992 was the third lowest of the decade, but the female unemployment rate was 1.78 times higher than the male.56

On average, women earn 70.3 percent of men's salary. This percentage decreases with income. While women in the first quintile earn 70.3 percent of men's income, women in the fifth quintile earn only 54.2 percent of the men's income.57 Even though the Constitution forbids gender-based discrimination in employment, employers are allowed to stipulate gender requirements in job descriptions.


Family Planning

Even though health services regulations require that women between fifteen and forty- four years-old have access to contraceptive methods, in practice women have access to contraceptives only after the first pregnancy. Although the Ministry of Health officially recognizes the importance of family planning, abortions are not readily available in public institutions, even in cases of rape. There is no coordination between hospitals that treat women with abortion complications and the public health services that provide contraceptive methods. In addition, there are no family planning programs that provide public education, and no information is available to women on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy.58 Women can request voluntary sterilization in public institutions, but they must obtain authorization from their husbands.59

Health Insurance

According to an Instituto de la Mujer report, there is an important degree of discrimination in the access, permanency and rates charged to women, especially those of reproductive age. Private companies avoid accepting pregnant women or do not cover the cost of birth, or they charge them higher rates. Women of reproductive age face the possibility of having benefits worth one-fourth of the benefits for men of the same age and in the same economic situation. A significant number of women who try to enter in the private insurance system are rejected by the insurance companies due to their pregnancy since they are considered a "bad customer" (mal negocio).60


The Chilean abortion law is one of the most restrictive in the world; only El Salvador and Nepal have similar laws. The Chilean Criminal Code prohibits all abortions, even when women's life is in danger, and it punishes both the women who consent to abortion and the providers. Therapeutic abortion was permitted in Chile from 1931 to 1989, but during the last weeks of Pinochet's government, the Health Code exception was modified based on the premise that "modern medicine" has made therapeutic abortion unnecessary.61 Despite the illegality of abortion, the per capita number of abortions in Chile is one of the highest in Latin America. Twenty-five percent of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, and this number has been increasing since 1990.62

In the 1990s, there have been two attempts to relax the abortion law. In 1991, the ruling coalition Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia introduced a project intended to reestablish the therapeutic abortion allowed between 1931 and 1989. Between 1994-1995 an NGO Open Forum on Reproductive Health and Rights developed a legal advocacy project which would allow for abortion in cases of incest and HIV/AIDS. Neither of these propositions has succeeded.63

Meanwhile, there have been initiatives to increase the penalties for abortion. In 1998, Senator Hernán Larraín submitted a proposal, which was subsequently rejected, that would have modified the Chilean Penal Code by imposing heavier penalties on both the abortion providers and on women who seek abortion. Under this law, abortion would have been considered a crime against the life of a human being, a significantly weightier charge than the current one, which is a crime against morality and family. Additionally, the law would have allowed for conviction of third parties involved in the abortion procedure and would have provided incentives for women who "repented" after having an abortion. Women who reported third parties and providers would have had their own penalties lessened.64

The current law makes it compulsory for physicians and hospital personnel to report women who arrive at the hospital with health problems caused by clandestine abortion. As a result of this law, about eighty percent of abortion cases filed against women were reported by their physician. This provision also increases the chance of death as the possibility of jail inhibits women from going to a hospital to treat abortion complications.65

According to Women Behind Bars, a study conducted by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and the Open Forum on Reproductive Health and Rights, sixty percent of surveyed women accused of obtaining abortions had no defense counsel at all. Eighty percent of criminal prosecutions of women who obtained abortions were the result of reports to the police by the public hospitals where they sought treatment for abortion-related complications. Health care providers forced some women to "confess" having had abortions under threats that medical care would be withheld if they refuse to do so. Of the women who had been prosecuted for undergoing abortion, sixty-one percent were under the age of twenty nine, forty nine percent were single, and only nine percent had finished high school. Forty-seven percent of the women were employed in low-paying jobs, such as domestic workers (twenty three percent) and factory workers (twenty percent). "This just does not happen to women who have the means to afford safe and discreet abortions at private clinics," according to Gaby Oré Aguilar, a staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy.66

The government has continued to place a low priority on establishing and implementing family and sex education programs in the schools. In 1996, the Ministry of Education along with the Ministry of Health launched a national sex education program in schools but suspended the program just a few days after it was introduced, because of the opposition by the Catholic Church.


As of December 1997, 2,211 cases of AIDS had been officially reported in Chile. Of these cases, nine percent are women. According to official statistics, 3,075 people are living with the HIV virus, but unofficial estimates are that at least 14,000 Chileans live with HIV. The incidence of HIV/AIDS is 16.8 per 100,000, and the rate of increase has been greater among women than in men. The ratio of HIV/AIDS cases of men to women dropped from 31.5:1 in 1990 to 10.5:1 in 1995, indicating a gradual feminization of HIV/AIDS.67


Social Security

The current social security system is fully funded by individuals: individuals deposit their contributions into personal accounts that are administered and invested by private companies. They receive retirement benefits in accordance with the amount in their personal account. Under this system, salaried workers deposit ten percent of their income and self-employed people can, if they want, deposit ten percent of their declared income. Given that most rural women are independent workers and cannot afford to contribute, 51.4 percent do not have sufficient resources in their account by the time they reach retirement age. Rural women are also more likely not to have access to the minimum pension provided by the state since they have more "blank" periods of employment (when they did not deposit in their personal account), or, if waged, they lack the minimum 240 months of contribution required for access to the benefit at retirement.68


Mandatory social security insurance covers cases of accidents at work and vocational diseases which guarantees benefits to salaried workers and to some self-employed workers. According to data from 1990, fifty-six percent of agricultural workers do not receive these benefits. However, the data are not disaggregated by gender. Moreover, forty-six percent of rural women have no health insurance (1990).69

Access to Land

In 1992 the Ministry of Resources, with funds from the World Bank, implemented a program for solving the irregularities in property rights, which, due to an agreement with SERNAM, benefit a significant number of female heads of household. Among the beneficiaries, 39.3 percent are women. It should be noted, however, that women typically have smaller properties than do men.70



Most women are married under the regime of sociedad conyugal. According to the Civil Code, the husband is the head of the "conjugal association" and manages the family's assets. This law does not allow women to enter into a contract without her husband's authorization.71 As a result, women face major obstacles when they apply for mortgage and request housing subsidies independent of their husbands. The patria potestad of the Family Code accords the father total control over the assets of underage children in the absence of an agreement between the couple.72

In Chile, seventeen percent of households are single-parent families and twenty-six percent of the children do not live with both parents. Tribunals for minors are dedicated mainly to regulating conflicts caused by marriage ruptures.73 Unmarried couples are not legally recognized in Chile. In cases of separation, the division of family assets depends on private agreement or is at the discretion of the tribunals.74


Chile is one of the few countries in the world without a divorce law.75 Despite surveys indicating that 58.5 percent of the population is in favor of legalizing divorce, According to Instituto de la Mujer, this prohibition against divorce makes married and separated women vulnerable to discrimination. Currently, seeking an annulment is the only way to "divorce." Under this alternative, the marriage is voided as if it had never existed. The annulment procedure is only available for those who can afford the high legal fees. According to the two shadow reports referenced at the beginning of this section, annulment practices result in discriminatory practices toward women and children.

A draft divorce law has been debated in parliament since 1993, but opponents are conducting a media campaign with strong support from the Catholic Church and right wing parties.76 The Catholic Church has threatened to excommunicate Catholic parliamentarians and senators if they support the divorce law.


Domestic Violence

A law regarding domestic violence was adopted in 1994. But according to Instituto de la Mujer, this law centers on the protection of the family in its traditional meaning rather than on women by themselves, having as its main objective the rehabilitation of the aggressor and the continuity of the family. The treatment of the issue has been immersed in traditional family values, as the slogan of the campaign was "no more violence between men and women," which obscures the fact that violence against women is a consequence of the unequal power relations between men and women.77

Moreover, according to La Morada, CLADEM, and Foro Abierto, the implementation of the law presents significant problems.78 First, the non-existence of family tribunals has limited application of the law: professionals involved in the process and women who try to use the law are largely ignorant of its provisions. Second, police personnel in charge of receiving the complains are not well informed about the required procedures for carrying out the investigations and, as a consequence, the process is unnecessarily delayed for lack of adequate information on the record. Moreover, the lack of appropriate facilities

inhibits treatment of victims of violence. Third, sixty-five percent of the cases end up in an agreement between the affected parties, a solution that it is deficient in the absence of any kind of required monitoring of the case.

A project to reform the judicial system, including the creation of family tribunals, has been introduced in the Parliament. These tribunals would have jurisdiction in cases of domestic violence. Women's non-governmental organizations fear that the tendency of the judges to arrange an agreement between the parties would disadvantage women due to the difference in bargaining power between men and women.79

Sexual Harassment

Currently there is a draft law, which has been under discussion since 1995, to address the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. The different factions in parliament have not agreed to extend its application to other sectors, such as educational institutions, prisons, and hospitals.80


Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: Chile (31 May 1995). The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women considered Chile's initial report (CEDAW/C/CHI/1) on 18 and 24 January 1995.

Principal Subjects of Concern:

  • Existence of laws which still contained discriminatory provisions, and of situations in which women were at a disadvantage compared to men.
  • The situation of rural women who did not have access to the same opportunities for the same services as those in the cities, as well as the low percentage of women in positions of political responsibility; maternal mortality resulting from clandestine abortions.

Suggestions and Recommendations:

  • Prepare its second report according to the guidelines, containing complete, well-grounded information that would reflect the real as well as the legal situation of women, including the obstacles encountered, instead of a report based mainly on legal references.
  • Promote the elimination of still existing discriminatory legal provisions, especially in relation to the family and to bring Chilean legislation into line with the Convention.
  • Introduce legislation providing for the right to legal divorce.
  • Provide more complete information, including relevant statistics, in its next report on the implementation of each of the articles, especially on topics such as violence against women, prostitution, political participation, reproductive health, working conditions and wages, the situation of "temporary" workers, women living in poverty, the de facto situation of women in the family, teenage pregnancy and the status of non-governmental organizations.
  • Provide information on steps undertaken to strengthen the National Office for Women's Affairs (SERNAM), and on the implementation of the equal opportunities plan.
  • Revise the extremely restrictive legislation on abortion, taking into account the relationship between clandestine abortion and maternal mortality.


Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture : Chile. 26/07/95. A/50/44, paras. 52-61. (Concluding Observations/Comments)

No recommendations concerning women were issued by this Committee.

Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child : Chile. 25/04/94. CRC/C/15/Add.22. (Concluding Observations/Comments)

No recommendations concerning women were issued by this Committee.


1 Paul W. Drake and Iván Jaksic, "Introduction: Transformation and Transition in Chile, 1982-1990," In: Paul W. Drake & Iván Jaksic, eds. The Struggle for Democracy in Chile (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 1. back

2 Brian Loveman, "The Transition to Civilian Government in Chile, 1990-1994," In: Paul W. Drake & Iván Jaksic, eds. The Struggle for Democracy in Chile (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 303. back

3 Human Rights Watch, Freedom of Expression and the Public Debate in Chile (November 1998), on-line, available at: http://www.hrw.org/reports98/Chile/, accessed 3 May 1999. back

4 María Elena Valenzuela, "The Evolving Roles of Women under Military Rule," In: Paul W. Drake & Iván Jaksic, eds. The Struggle for Democracy in Chile (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 162. back

5 Ibid., 167; Brian Loveman, "The Transition to Civilian Government in Chile, 1990-1994," In: Paul W. Drake & Iván Jaksic, eds. The Struggle for Democracy in Chile (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 324-325. back

6 María Elena Valenzuela, "The Evolving Roles of Women under Military Rule," In: Paul W. Drake & Iván Jaksic, eds. The Struggle for Democracy in Chile (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 171. back

7 Ibid., 183-184. back

8 Brian Loveman, 327. back

9 Lonely Planet, Destination Chile & Easter Island, on-line, available at: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/det/sam/chile.htm, accessed 4 April 1999. back

10 Gustavo Gonzalez, "Rights-Chile: Public Divided Over Fate of Pinochet," Inter Press Service, 20 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

11 "Former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet Must Stay in England for Extradition Process," NotiSur - Latin American Political Affairs, 23 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

12 "Chile: Country Fact Sheet," EIU NewsWire, 22 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

13 Paul W. Drake and Iván Jaksic, 13. back

14 Gustavo Gonzalez, "Rights-Chile: Public Divided Over Fate of Pinochet," Inter Press Service, 20 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

15 Hendrik Groth, "General Pinochet - the Man who Symbolizes Latin America's Dark Ages," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 24 March 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

16 Brian Loveman, 305. back

17 "Chile: Country Fact Sheet," EIU NewsWire, 22 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

18 Brian Loveman, 306. back

19 Ibid., 312-313. back

20 "Former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet Must Stay in England for Extradition Process," NotiSur - Latin American Political Affairs, 23 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

21 Hendrik Groth, "General Pinochet - the Man who Symbolises Latin America's Dark Ages." back

22 Garzón launched an investigation into the crimes committed by military regimes in Argentina and Chile three years ago; "Former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet Must Stay in England for Extradition Process," NotiSur - Latin American Political Affairs, 23 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

23 "Former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet Must Stay in England for Extradition Process," NotiSur - Latin American Political Affairs, 23 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

24 Gustavo Gonzalez, "Rights-Chile: Public Divided Over Fate of Pinochet." back

25 "Former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet Must Stay in England for Extradition Process," NotiSur - Latin American Political Affairs, 23 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

26 Ibid. back

27 Gustavo Gonzalez, "Rights-Chile: Public Divided Over Fate of Pinochet." back

28 Brian Loveman, 325-326. back

29 Human Rights Watch, Freedom of Expression and the Public Debate in Chile (November 1998). back

30 Committee to Protect Journalists, Country Report: Chile. As of 31 December 1998, available at: http://www.cpj.org/countrystatus/1998/Americas/Chile.html, accessed 30 April 1999. back

31 Ibid. back

32 Gustavo Gonzalez, "Rights-Chile: Outcry over Attack on Freedom of Express," Inter Press Service, 21 April 1999, Nexis (30 April 1999). back

33 Gustavo Gonzalez, "Chile-Media: Debate on Pluralism in the Chilean Press," Inter Press Service, 14 May 1998, Nexis (30 April 1999). back

34 Committee to Protect Journalists, Country Report: Chile. back

35 Brian Loveman, 327-328. back

36 Ibid., 327. back

37 Gustavo Gonzalez, "Environment Chile: Tensions Rise as Loggins Talks Fail," Inter Press Service, 9 April 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

38 Ibid. back

39 Ibid. back

40 "A Warm Goodbye for Expelled Activists," Inter Press Service, 17 March 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

41 "Elderly Indigenous Women Tried by Military Courts," Inter Press Service, 29 March 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

42 "Native Chileans Under Threat," The Press (New Zealand), 27 January 1999, Nexis (27 April 1999). back

43 La Tercera, on line, available at http:tercera.entelchile.net/diario/1999/02/27/27.21/3A.ECO.MASSAD.html, accessed 27 February 1999. back

44 The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 1998 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Right: Chile (Brussels: ICFTU, 1998): 45-46. back

45 Ibid. back

46 Ibid. back

47 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

48 Ibid. Appendix 1. back

49 Corporación de la Mujer La Morada, Comité Latinoamericano y del Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, and Foro Abierto de Salud y Derechos Reproductivos, "Reporte Alternativo al III Informe periodico del estado del Cumplimiento de CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

50 Ibid. back

51 Ibid. back

52 Ibid. back

53 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

54 For several examples see Appendix 1. Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

55 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

56 International Labor Organization, on line, available from: http://www.ilolim.org.pe/homeagenew/spanish/260ameri/publ/panorama/1998/anexest/cdro3a.shtml, accessed 19 March 1999. back

57 Ministry of Planning, Encuesta de Caracterización Socioeconómica Nacional (CASEN), 1998. back

58 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

59 Ibid. back

60 "Discriminación a Mujeres Fertiles en Sistema Privado de Salud," Mujer/Fempress (July 1998):201. back

61 The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and The Open Forum on Reproductive Health and Rights, "Women Behind Bars," 1998. back

62 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

63 Violeta Bermúdez Valdivia, "Silencios Públicos Muertes Privadas," Comite de America Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, 1998. back

64 The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, "Reproductive Freedom News," vol. VIII, number 1, January 1999, 5. back

65 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, April 1999. back

66 The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, on line, available at http://www.crlp.org, accessed 18 March 1999. back

67 Karen L. Anderson, "Women, AIDS and Poverty in Urban Shantytowns in Chile," Women, Vulnerability and HIV/AIDS A human Rights Perspective, Women's Health Collection, vol. 3, 1998. Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network. back

68 Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo de la Mujer, "Mujeres Rurales." Instituto de la Mujer, Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW, Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

69 Ibid. back

70 Ibid. back

71 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile April 1999. back

72 Ibid. back

73 "Mayoría Aprueba el Divorcio," Mujer/Fempress (October 1998):204. back

74 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

75 "Mayoría Aprueba el Divorcio," Mujer/Fempress (October 1998):204. back

76 Ibid. back

77 M. Elena Valenzuela, "El desafio de hacer política feminista desde el Estado," Cuarto Propio del Estado, Especial/Fempress, 1998. back

78 Corporación de la Mujer La Morada, Comité Latinoamericano y del Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, and Foro Abierto de Salud y Derechos Reproductivos, "Reporte Alternativo al III Informe periodico del estado del Cumplimiento de CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

79 Instituto de la Mujer, "Presentación del Estado de Cumplimiento del CEDAW," Santiago, Chile, April 1999. back

80 Ibid. back




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