Something pretty amazing has just happened in Chile. An October 25 popular referendum has seen 78% of voters demanding a new constitution and 79% demanding it’s written by fellow Chilean citizens, with half to be women.
That looks set to reduce the power of the male-dominated political elite and give women a much stronger voice in the future. Something women fought tirelessly for as the country grappled with what a yes vote on such a referendum would mean.
With that quota system in place, Chile is now on track to become the first country ever to have a constitution written by women in equal numbers to men.
The new constitution would replace the one created four decades ago under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Under this yes vote, no active lawmakers can be involved in the new charter. Instead, it will be created by a specially elected citizen’s body, with quotas to ensure diversity: including that half of those participating are female and that Indigenous representatives are included.
There has been jubiliation in the streets as the results of Sunday’s vote became known, with the word REBIRTH projected on to on of Santiago’s buildings.
The referendum comes one year since Chileans took to the streets in Santiago, initially protesting an increase in public transport costs. A week later, one million people turned up, marching for a wide range of national reforms. They were demanding everything from an end to gender violence, to free higher education, healthcare and better outcomes for those retiring. The protests continued for weeks.
A referendum was initially scheduled for late April, but then postponed due to COVID-19. It had been agreed to by Chile’s right-wing president Sebastián Piñera. He has acknowledged the peaceful vote and declared it “the beginning of a path that we must all walk together.”
Since those late 2019 protests, women have pushed — and were initially dismissed — to ensure that any changes would see equal representation, again taking to the streets and working from within the Chilean Congress to demand that half of those writing a new constitution are female, under the slogan “never again without women”.
As such, the referendum included two questions. The first asking if voters wanted the new constitution (with 78% voting in favour with almost all votes counted). And the second asking what kind of body should should draw it up, with 79% saying it should be made up from 100% or people elected by a popular vote, rather than members of Congress.
155 people, nominated by political and social groups over the next two months and chosen at the ballot boxes in April 2021, will make up the convention that writes the new constitution. Their draft will be taken to another referendum in 2022, and must be approved by a majority in order to replace the existing charter.
Those celebrating the yes victory described it as the “beginning of something much bigger”, a new constitution with “handwriting of the people”. They celebrated the youth who “dared to jump the turnstyles”, initially protesting those hikes in transport fares that ultimately led to something much bigger.
Pictured above: A scene from an International Women’s Day 2020 Demonstration in Santiago de Chile streets.