On October 25th, Chile held a historical plebiscite where the 78% of the population voted for initiating a Constitutional building process to replace the current Constitution, dated from Pinochet era. Along with this, the Chileans voted for the drafting mechanism: a constitutional convention composed of 100% popularly elected members, of which women must make up for 45% to 55% of the total. Thus, the South American country will become the first in the world to have a Constitution written by an equal number of men and women, taking the lead on female political representation world-wide.
This milestone is historical, as it reverses a logic of systemic and structural inequality deeply rooted in human history and institutions. For hundreds of years, women were relegated to the private sphere, in charge of home, family, and care duties. Thus, most of the political history of humanity was built without women, without indigenous people, without ethnic minorities. The concept of citizen was for many years, equivalent to that of man, usually white and wealthy. Thus, it was only them who made decisions for all other groups of society.
After an arduous struggle to obtain political rights around the world, in Chile, women obtained the absolute right to vote and to hold a public office in 1949. From then on, Chilean women have managed to participate in diverse public spaces but have been systemically underrepresented in the areas of power and decision-making. For example, the percentage of women in the Chilean Chamber of Deputies augmented only 10 points in 24 years, going from 6% in 1989 to 16% in 2013. In 2017, it reached 22.5% after the introduction of a gender quota system. While this represents a significant advancement, the numbers are still very far from representing reality.
But beyond helping improve female representativeness, a Constitutional building process in which female voices have the same strength and space as male voices is a unique opportunity to balance forces and modify hierarchical structures deeply rooted in institutions, be it in Chile or elsewhere. Concretely, it represents an opportunity of building a more diverse legal and regulatory framework, that no longer has an exclusively masculine logic. A Constitution that incorporates gendered principles and demands, such as the right to live a life free of violence, would be an important step towards reaching substantive gender equality in many countries.
Moreover, a Constitution with a gender-sensitive approach, could facilitate the inclusion and empowerment of dissenting and historically excluded identities, such as indigenous people, Afro-descendants, people from the LGBTIQ+ community, and people with disabilities. It could open up the system for their realities and needs to be equally considered. Consequently, this perspective could pervade the whole institutional order, generating a more inclusive legal system and juridical culture, not only for women but also for diverse and marginalised identities.
Finally, the existence of a constitutional convention with gender parity is an achievement of the strong Chilean feminist movement, which became known world-wide through the feminist protest anthem by Las Tesis collective. The Chilean feminists have long been articulating from the grass-root to generate institutional and cultural changes. This shows two things: that grass-rooted citizen's movements can have an actual impact on reality, and that the Global South can be a role model for both citizen's movements and institutional changes that promote gender equality.