Chilean women, suspicious of the right, could decide the presidential race

SANTIAGO, Chile – When Chileans went to the polls last month, Elizabeth Padilla, like more than half of eligible voters in the South American country, stayed at home, not feeling represented by any of the seven candidates on the ballot.

But her apathy suddenly lifted when a politician she feared, José Antonio Kast, finished first. In recent days, as Chileans prepare for a run-off between far-right candidate and left-wing lawmaker Gabriel Boric, the 45-year-old artist has hung campaign posters in his downtown Santiago neighborhood and has warned her friends about what she considers a serious threat to women if Kast wins.

“We are four sisters and I have three nieces. I am very worried about what could happen, “said Padilla, who has spent many sleepless nights envisioning a return of” fascism “in a country which until 1990 was ruled by a military dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, that Kast defended. “The truth is, I didn’t know there were so many people who think like that.”

This is a sentiment widely shared by Chilean women, especially young urban professionals, who are shaping up to be the key to a close race between political extremes fighting for Chile’s future.

Kast, the 55-year-old founder of the fledgling Republican Party, won 28% of the vote on November 21, edging Boric by two points. Historically, all the Chilean candidates who were leading in the first round of voting won in the second round.

Emerging from dictatorship, Chilean women voted in greater numbers and favored conservative candidates more consistently than their male compatriots, perhaps fearing a return to the unrest seen during the 1970-1973 reign of overthrown Socialist President Salvador. Allende, when women, then mostly stuck in the kitchen, knocked on pots and pans in protest of food shortages.

Several opinion polls indicate that this time, women are flocking to Boric – a millennial who uses non-binary pronouns of the strain – as he capitalizes on Kast’s long record of sexist comments and political goals considered. as out of step with rapidly changing societal norms. .

“Don’t vote for the Nazis. No, no, no, ”shouted a few thousand women on Wednesday at a noisy feminist rally in downtown Santiago against Kast, the son of a German immigrant who was recently revealed to be a titular member of a Adolf Hitler’s political party card.

Giovanna Roa, who was in attendance, said a Kast victory would be a major setback for the women.

“Kast explicitly wants to take us back to a place we’ve already left behind,” said Roa, 34, a member of the convention overhauling Pinochet’s constitution – the first such institution in the world where gender parity is mandatory. . “He wants us hidden and out of the public arena. “

Chile, despite its reputation as one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America, has always had a militant feminist movement which in recent years has made great strides in passing laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, easing restrictions on abortion and strengthening women’s representation in politics.

A sign of its strength is the feminist anthem ‘A Rapist on Your Way’, which has been adopted by activists around the world to speak out against violence against women since its first performance in a wave of anti-government protests. in 2019.

The rise of Kast, in the eyes of his detractors, is a backlash against these gains and the emergence in Chile of a kind of identity politics that has shaken democracies across the world.

Polls show he has made inroads with middle-class voters and campaigns worried Boric – a former student protest leader who doesn’t hesitate to stand up for Allende – will disrupt three decades of economic and political stability which was the envy of Chile. a lot in Latin America.

Kast, who donned Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat in TV interviews, recently began to revisit some of his past views to bolster support for women.

But wooing the key electoral bloc was made more difficult when a video surfaced days after the first round in which a key supporter, YouTuber turned Congressman-elect Johannes Kaiser, can be heard mocking women’s suffrage. – which dates back to 1949 – if its The end result is that “schizophrenic” women continue to support parties that welcome immigrants who threaten to rape women when they jog in the park.

As lawmaker in 2004, Kast voted against legislation legalizing divorce – a position he reaffirmed as recently as 2010. In an interview during the campaign, he said this was no longer a problem. .

In a 2018 newspaper column, he attacked Chile’s most famous actress, Daniela Vega, referring to the transgender star of the Oscar-winning film “A Fantastic Woman” as a man. Her column opposed a bill – later passed – allowing individuals to select their gender identity on legal documents.

“I wouldn’t write (the newspaper’s column) in the same terms,” ​​he said in a televised debate this week, adding that he would respect existing legislation.

The campaign platform he presented ahead of the first round of voting opposes same-sex marriage – which Chile’s congress approved by a large majority this month – and promises to toughen Chile’s already restrictive laws on marriage. abortion, which allows a woman to terminate her pregnancy only in the case of rape, when the fetus will not survive or the health of the mother is in danger.

Instead, the 204-page document highlights “family-centered” policies such as marriage classes, incentives to have babies, and health care subsidies for married women. The platform is also calling for the abolition of the Women’s Ministry – a post it has since abandoned.

“I want to admit that we made a mistake,” Kast said, surrounded by supporters, at a campaign rally this month highlighting policies he said would favor women. “We ask for forgiveness. We have changed our position and it is clear that we are not only going to keep the Ministry of Women but we are going to strengthen it.

In contrast, Boric, 35, appears to be adopting his far-right portrayal as Chile’s first “awake” presidential candidate.

On the stump, he addresses supporters using gender-neutral terms, popular with a handful of fellow Chilean millennials and not found in traditional Spanish grammar. Her unmarried partner, another activist, said she was not interested in serving as first lady, a traditional role she says has survived in Chile.

Unlike Kast, Boric also refused to appear on the online show “Bad Boys” hosted by surprise third winner Franco Parisi, which garnered over 13% of the vote in the first round. In rejecting the invitation, Boric cited Parisi’s significant food debt to his ex-wife.

“Electorally, it would be profitable. … However, I believe that in elections as in life, you have to be guided by principles, ”he said.

Recent polls show that women and young voters are overwhelmingly in favor of Boric, sometimes up to 20 points.

“In a tight race, a spike in the voices of young women, who tend to skew the left wing more and feel threatened by Kast’s conservative rhetoric, can make a big difference,” said Marcela Rios, political scientist at the Program. United Nations Development Organization in Chile which focused on gender issues. “It all depends on participation.

But outside the capital, where traditional gender roles have changed less, it’s unclear just how deep support for Boric really runs among women.

Granted, Boric has not been exempt from criticism for his past behavior towards women.

In July, following Boric’s victory in a primary, an activist colleague denounced what she described as “acts of violence” involving the left-wing standard-bearer in 2012, while he was head of the student union of the University of Chile. It’s unclear what happened, but Boric, who she says acted like a ‘stalking pig’, recently apologized to the woman, who in turn accused Kast of promoting “Unscrupulous and violent” of the incident.

Boric’s mother says she is partly responsible for her son’s persistent machismo.

“I raised him with a fundamentally sexist mentality … because that’s also how I was taught,” said María Soledad Font in an interview in her home in southern Chile.

But over time, after Boric traveled to Santiago for college and broadened his horizons, he began to shed what she called “old Gabriel”.

“He made it his goal to listen and understand,” Font said, pointing to his son’s childhood bedroom – filled with framed football shirts, a photo of Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara and spray painted slogans from the French Revolution. “That’s when he started to see (men and women) are equal in value and talent.”


Goodman reported from Miami. Claudio Monge contributed to this report from Punta Arenas, Chile.

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