‘Dangerous for women’: warning as Chileans vote on new draft constitution

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Activists and analysts in Chile have warned that swathes of the country’s population stand to lose out should a new draft constitution drawn up by conservative lawmakers be approved in a nationwide referendum on Sunday.

Chileans head to the polls caught between exhaustion and resentment in a compulsory vote to decide whether the 1980 constitution written during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, and since reformed, should be replaced.

“Children, women, the environment, and the welfare state will be the losers,” said Antonia Rivas, a lawyer and anthropologist who helped draft an earlier draft.

“And the winners would be those who already have the most,” she said of the proposal, which was written by a gender-equal, 50-person council controlled by the far-right Republican party.

According to Rivas, the latest draft responds to the issues dominating the news agendae – such as illegal migration and public security – making it read “more like a Republican party manifesto”.

“When you write a constitution without thinking of everyone, it’s destined to fail,” she said. “That’s the lesson we’ve learned twice, in my opinion.”

Sunday’s vote comes after a previous draft was rejected by voters in a similar referendum last year. That version, which would have been one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, was shot down emphatically by 62% of voters.

At that point, congress took over and the constitutional question was shifted decisively back into the hands of the traditional political class.

The new proposal is widely seen as a reflection of the conservative, nationalist Republican party’s ideological programme.

It contains clauses declaring it a Chilean’s “duty to honour the fatherland and its national symbols”, including controversial sports like the rodeo.

In other areas, there is a baffling mix of conservative ideologies, including a bill that safeguards homeschooling – something which has rarely, if ever, been part of the conversation in Chile.

The proposal also slashes 17 seats from the chamber of deputies, Chile’s lower congressional house, despite deep-seated clamour for greater decentralisation and representation in Chilean politics.

Finally, it declares that the state must promote free competition, entrepreneurship and innovation, and emphatically enshrines the protection of private property.

Among its most controversial tenets is a clause which protects the “life of that is to be born”, which many analysts say paves the way for abortion – currently allowed in Chile in the cases of rape, danger to the mother’s life, or if the baby will not survive beyond birth – to be decriminalised.

“This constitution is dangerous for women, because it puts at risk the rights that we have managed to guarantee through social movements,” said Sofía Rodríguez, the spokeswoman for the feminist group Coordinadora Feminista 8M.

“The proposal is a backwards step for Chile, and undoubtedly a backwards step for Chilean women.”

The Republicans disagree.

“This is a constitution which has elements that everyone can support – if one political faction liked the entire document, we would have done a poor job,” said Beatriz Hevia, 31, the Republican elected president of the constitutional council.

Hevia signals its mentions of salary equality and guarantee of women’s access to elected positions. The proposal also says that a mechanism will ensure neither gender can make up more than 60% of the chamber of deputies.

The final polling before the vote has the “against” option winning with between 55% and 68%.

The “in favour” option had been on the rise, but no poll has forecast its victory.

Should this proposal be rejected too, the road ahead for Chile is unclear, although the 1980 constitution will remain in place in the short term.

President Gabriel Boric has said that there will be no new constitutional process before his term ends in 2026.

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