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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009)

The Churches and Gender Equality in Chile (Draft)

This paper analyses the role of the churches in Chile’s public and political life, and focuses specifically on their influence in the process of restoring democracy during the 1990s. It also examines their effect on formulating and implementing two policies important to women’s autonomy and to the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights. The first of these is the National Sexual Education Policy, which gave rise to the programme, directed at young teenage students, known as Conversation Workshops on Emotion and Sexuality (Jornadas de Conversación sobre Afectividad y Sexualidad, or JOCAS). The second policy relates to providing free “morning after” pills at public health facilities. JOCAS was implemented at the beginning of the 1990s, as the transition to democracy began, while the policy on the morning after pill is part of the Fertility Regulation Standards proposed in the first decade of the new millennium.

Churches in Chile have used issues of education, family and sexuality to defend the gender status quo and the family, and to ensure that women’s sexuality remains subordinate to reproduction. These issues have been highly controversial and have given rise to a lively debate. Although there are differences within and between churches, they continue to interpret these issues within the context of their doctrinal frameworks. Sexual and reproductive rights are the main area of political confrontation between the Catholic Church and progressive movements. The authors argue that the Catholic Church, due to its close ties to power, has been a major actor in policy formulation and implementation, while the minority status and heterogeneity of the evangelical churches, and the discrimination they experience, accounts for their more pluralistic positions.

The analysis presented in this paper attempts to reconstruct the political camps, rhetoric and practices of those committed to these two policies. This includes governmental actors, religious authorities, political officials, social leaders and the women’s movement. The paper is divided into four sections. The opening section briefly reconstructs the historical background in order to highlight the role of Christian churches in Chile’s political and social life from the country’s independence in the nineteenth century to the present. The second section analyses the National Sexual Education Policy to Improve Education, which provoked a major political debate in the 1990s. The third section analyzes emergency contraception, which was one of the measures that was set forth in the Fertility Regulation Standards and has been central to the Church’s strong opposition to the standards since 2000.