20-year-old Amapola Manquehual in Chile continues to participate in the protests for abortion rights and social reforms that have swept Latin America in recent years. This despite the fact that Chile last autumn voted no to a constitutional proposal that would legalize abortion in the country. Photo: Vilma Ellemark/Amapola Manquehual.

FUF-correspondents, Interview

She continues the women's struggle in Chile - despite no to a new constitution for abortion rights

In September 2022, Chile voted no to a historic constitutional proposal that, among other things, included gender quotas in public bodies and the right to abortion. This after several years of protests for social reforms and women's rights.
- I cried when I saw the result, but I still have hope, says women's rights activist Amapola Manquehual.

It's a sunny afternoon when I meet 20-year-old Amapola Manquehual in Chile's capital, Santiago. Although she is on summer vacation from her university studies and non-profit women's rights missions, the green flag that has come to symbolize the abortion movement in Latin America hangs as a clear statement from her purple backpack.

In recent years, the so-called green Wave, the protests for abortion rights, swept across Latin America. The protests have led to abortion being decriminalized up to and including the 14th week of pregnancy Argentina and week 24 i Colombia. But in Chile abortion is still illegal, except in cases of rape or when the life of the woman or the fetus is in danger.

When do you think women will have the right to free abortion in Chile?

- Hopefully soon. The right to abortion was included in the constitutional proposal that was voted down, so I still have hope. But at the same time, there are many right-wing politicians who are against abortion, says Amapola Manquehual.

That's it 4 September 2022 as almost 62 percent of the citizens of Chile voted no, thus rejecting the new constitutional proposal that had been drawn up after massive protests broke out in the country in 2019. The protests, which was started by high school students, was at first a reaction on increased ticket prices in public transport, but they quickly developed into dealing with social and economic inequality in the country. The protesters demanded a new constitution because they believed that the existing constitution preventing many social reforms. Many also protested for women's rights issues such as the right to abortion.

The protests that broke out in Chile in 2019 continue to make an impact in the country. On a graffiti wall in the country's capital, Santiago, the student protests against increased public transport prices are painted with the official slogan "Evade!", which means "Avoid/Avoid!". Photo: Vilma Ellemark.

- Women are systematically subjected to various forms of patriarchal violence, which is an integral part of how Chile is organized, Alondra Carrillo, spokeswoman for the feminist interest group La Coordinadora Feminista 8M, told The Guardian 2020.

Millions of people protested, at least 30 died and 8 were injured in what has come to be called the most violent era in Chile since Pinochet's military dictatorship in the 1970s. Amapola Manquehual, who was in her senior year of high school when the protests broke out, remembers what it was like when she participated.

- One of the first days I was stuck between two police forces and forced to run through tear gas. I couldn't breathe. It was very uncomfortable, she says.

Millions of people took to the streets of Chile in 2019 in protest against the country's inequalities. Many were met with violence from police forces in what has come to be known as the most violent era since Pinochet's military dictatorship in the 1970s. Photo: Hugo Morales. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Despite that, Amapola Manquehual continued to demonstrate every day during the first two weeks of the protests, and then every Friday until the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. And the persistence paid off. The October 25, 2020 a referendum was held on whether Chile should write a new constitution, and almost eight out of ten Chileans voted for.

But despite this, the proposal for the new constitution was voted down in September 2022. Many voters felt that the proposal was too radically, according to with the BBC. In addition, a lot of misinformation was spread, such as that the proposed abortion right meant that one would be allowed to carry out an abortion up to and including the ninth month, according to Amnesty Press. The downvote means that social reforms such as free education and the right to care and housing as well historical propositions such as more autonomy for indigenous peoples and gender quotas in public bodies will not be implemented, as well as the right to abortion.

- I cried when I saw the result. I thought maybe it was just me, but when I went to school the next day, everyone was sad and in shock. The vote was the only thing we talked about, says Amapola Manquehual.

Now instead, a new constitutional proposal will be drawn up by an expert commission. Some representatives are elected by parliament and others by direct election i April . This process is different from the first proposal, which mainly written by representatives from different ethnic groups and social movements. This is according to the decision from the referendum in October 2020, then almost 80 percent of voters voted that the constitution should not be written by sitting parliamentarians. Amapola Manquehual therefore believes that the decision on an expert group lacks confidence among the people.

- People have lost hope. They do not believe in the new constitution if it is to be written by experts. Because it means that the same politicians who have historically had power get to decide again, she says.

But if the people's hope for the new constitution has died down, at least temporarily, the struggle waged on the streets in 2019 is still alive. About 400 women demonstrated for free abortion on International Women's Day on March 8 this year and high school students have once again taken to the streets after the constitutional proposal was voted down. However, the scale of the protests is significantly smaller compared to 2019, as many are exhausted after the turbulent years that have been, according to The Guardian.

Amapola Manquehual is herself one of those who continue to participate in demonstrations and publish pictures and videos from the demonstrations in social media. In addition, she lectures at secondary schools on consent, contraception and its side effects, which she believes are topics of conversation that are often missing from schools' sexual knowledge.

- Sexual knowledge in Chile revolves around the fear of contracting an STD rather than understanding the body or other aspects of sex. At my lectures, I have received questions such as "What happens if a condom gets stuck in the vagina?". The students have no one to talk to about this and then I feel that I have done my job.

Amapola Manquehual (in the middle) together with a school class from Colegio Republica Argentina in Santiago. There she has lectured on consent, contraception and its side effects. Photo: Nicolas Garcia.

Despite the disappointment that the new constitutional proposal was voted down, Amapola Manquehual is hopeful for the future. We look again at the green flag on her backpack.

- Just a few years ago, for example, abortion was incredibly taboo, but now I see the green symbol everywhere in the city. I believe we can create change, she says.

Is there something in the text that is not correct? Contact us at opinion@fuf.se

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