One month ago, more than a million Chilean women gathered on the streets of the capital, Santiago. They demonstrated against sexual violence and for economic reforms in the country. But now the coronavirus has increased domestic violence - and the mobilization for gender equality has become more difficult.
The demonstration on International Women's Day on March 8 was based on the large square Plaza Italia, which in recent times is often called Plaza de la Dignidad, the Square of Dignity. The square has become a central starting point for the large social demonstrations - with both women and men - which started in October 2019. Since then, protesters have taken over the neighborhoods around the square. They accuse the state of having shockingly raised public transport prices and privatized healthcare, schools and other public resources - something that has made Chile one of South America's most expensive countries to live in.
The protests during Women's Day, on the other hand, focused mainly on publicly condemning the government's silence and passivity after hundreds of reports that testified about violations of women's rights.
- The oppressive state is a rapist! chanted the crowds.
Behind the protests was the feminist association Coordinadora Feminista 8M. In addition to raising awareness of inequality and violence against women, the aim of the demonstration was to bring about a change in the law that takes into account women's rights. IN an article in Dagens Nyheter, the activists say that the demand for an equal society must be given the same priority as the other demonstrators' demands for social and economic reforms.
Javiera Manzi, spokesperson for Coordinadora Feminista 8M, hopes that the large turnout for the demonstration will legitimize the demands for gender equality and thus lead to great change in Chile. She adds that 2020 will be a year of mobilization, where women will be the protagonists.
- We took to the streets to exercise our rights. We set out to remove the government from the front line, she said in the local press.
Dagens Nyheter speculated that the feminist demonstration could be the starting point for a new wave of protests ahead of the forthcoming referendum on 26 April. Then the people would decide whether the constitution, which still dates from the former dictator Augusto Pinochet, should be rewritten. With the current pandemic, covid-19, the referendum will be postponed until October.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus has turned society upside down and not least changed the situation for the female protesters. Large crowds have been banned and several regions in Chile has announced a total quarantine. Plaza Italia in Santiago echoes the grounds and the streets where the protesters lived are now guarded by the military. Although social distancing slows down the spread of infection, violence in close relationships unfortunately increases because the majority of all gender-based violence takes place in the home. Coordinadora Feminista 8M has as a temporary measure initiated a crisis plan and a support network for those women who are abused during quarantine.
Although no demonstrations can currently take place in the streets, the fight for equality can be seen elsewhere. In addition to increased digital activism, many choose to use their balconies to hang protest signs or shout rhymes to continue spreading the message that Chilean women are demanding change.
"To be safe can not mean that we have to give up the historical movement that we have seen in our country," Emilia Schneider, president of the student association at the University of Chile, told The Washington Post.