Chile’s women shine in constitution vote as more men need leg-up to stay even

Women take part in a performance of Las Tesis feminist collective while lawmakers debate and vote on an impeachment motion against Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, in Valparaiso, Chile

Chilean women made such a strong showing in elections to pick candidates to draft the country’s new constitution that adjustments to ensure the body was equally split between genders had to be made in favor of more men, elections body Servel said on Monday.

A total of five seats were handed to female candidates who polled lower than male counterparts in certain districts to ensure a 50-50 gender split, while seven seats were handed to men who polled lower.

The idea to ensure the body drafting the new constitution was equal in gender was originally blocked by right wing parties but eventually approved by Congress – in what rights activists said was a world first.

Analysts celebrated the moving to the fore of women in a historically conservative nation, while others lamented the fact any ceiling had been placed on victorious female candidates at all.

Alondra Carrillo Vidal, 29, a psychologist who acted as spokeswoman for the 8M women’s movement that has driven some of the largest protests against the center-right government in recent years, was picked to represent the capital Santiago’s working class southern suburbs. She said she had raised concerns at the start about a 50% cap on women which she suggested had been borne out.

“What this result shows is that our power overflows all the frameworks that try to contain it and what was presented as a democratic minimum was actually a way of maintaining the presence of men in representative spaces,” she said.

A total of 699 women stood for seats on the convention, and 674 men. The electoral body said 77 women had secured seats, and 78 men.

The requirement for gender parity forced political groups to look for competitive female candidates, Julieta Suarez-Cao, academic at the Catholic University’s Political Science Institute, told the Diario Financiero newspaper.

“This shows Chile is not a macho country, that if you find the competitive and good candidates – and there are many – people will vote for them,” she said.

Javiera Arce, a political scientist at the University of Valparaiso, told Reuters the victory of so many women underscored how they had previously been undervalued as a political force in Chile, while men had been nudged up through the ranks.

“From now on, I think men will simply have to up their game,” she said.

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