Women in Chile voice fears over far-right presidential candidate

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As the presidential race in Chile draws to a close, some women fear that the victory of José Antonio Caste could take away their rights.

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Santiago, Chile – Olga Valenzuela waits on the side of a busy street in the Chilean capital in late November with a black T-shirt bearing the name “Murial”.

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Valenzuela’s daughter Muriel was killed by her boyfriend four years ago during an argument at their home. She was 19, and her boyfriend has yet to go to trial or be sentenced.

Valenzuela, who joined thousands of women in a march to Chile’s presidential palace on November 25 to protest violence against women in the South American nation, says, “I am not a political figure, but I have joined this group “

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Several mothers followed him, each with their names printed on their T-shirts and holding banners condemning domestic violence. A member of the group held a suitable mannequin with a cardboard cutout of the face of far-right presidential candidate Jose Antonio Cast.

Cast, a 55-year-old devout Catholic and founder of the far-right Republican Party, won more votes than any other candidate, securing 27.91 percent of support in the first round of Chile’s presidential election on November 21. He will face 35-year-old progressive Gabriel Borik, a former student protest leader, in the December 19 runoff.

For many mothers in and around Valenzuela, there are growing fears that a custodial government could cripple their bid for justice and escalate the violence that killed their daughters. “No one listened to me – I’m just another mother looking for justice,” Valenzuela tells Al Jazeera.

“But I do not want Kast Sarkar, he is someone who does not support women.

“I won’t have a granddaughter,” she adds. “But I want my daughter’s friends to live with respect.”

‘Against the Feminist Movement’

UN Women has called Chile to address prevailing gender inequalities, including the low political representation of women in parliament as well as threats of violence. In 2018, 5.8 percent of Chilean women had reported sexual and/or physical domestic abuse in the previous 12 months, the organization found.

As part of its campaign, Kast has pledged to stop domestic violence through harsher punishment for the perpetrators.

However, during her 16 years in the Chamber of Deputies, she repeatedly voted against gender equality acts and women’s rights legislation. She has reiterated her beliefs in the patriarchal family unit and Catholic family values, which were accepted by women’s rights activists as wrong and regressive.

In her presidential program, Kast announced plans to dismantle the existing Women’s Ministry, which was set up in 2017 to address gender inequalities and end violence, and to merge with the Ministry of Social Development.

Earlier this week, in a bid to attract the support of female voters, she said she would not eliminate the women’s ministry “by name”, but did not back her plan to reduce it and merge it with another department. .

Her program also includes a plan to subsidize heterosexual families with children – except single mothers and same-sex couples – and to prohibit abortion in all circumstances, undoing an existing rule that allows women to be raped. Allows abortion to be used in case the mother’s life is in danger, or if the fetus will not survive.

“They have a strategy against the feminist movement and believe that their values ​​are contrary to the concept of a family,” said Paulina Vergara, a professor at the Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Chile. “(Women) have few such rights, and without them, we would not have real democracy,” Vergara told Al Jazeera.

far right party

Cast spent the bulk of his career in the Independent Democratic Union (UDI). The party was formed by legislators who held political positions during the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which ended in 1990.

Cast split with the party in 2016, launching his first campaign for the presidency as an independent candidate a year later, when he came in fourth 7.9 percent of the vote, In 2019, he founded the Republican Party with the support of breakaway members of the UDI, who sought a more conservative model with conservative values ​​and liberal economics.

NS party manifesto It is based on the protection of life from “conception to natural death”, “belief in God”, and the idea that family units consisting of a man and a woman are the “foundation of society”. It also advocates for less state intervention and a free market economy.

Citing Poland, Hungary and Spain as examples, Vergara said, “The popularity of the Republican Party is part of a shift in extreme-rightism around the world.” “It has a Christian front, and it’s more conservative and more extreme.”

Chileans elected in November primary 15 reps 12 men and three women from the Republican Party. Tweets and interview clips of an elected deputy, Johannes Kaiser, went viral soon after his appointment due to his misogynistic and violent nature.

“62% of women imagine being raped, and at the same time, they go out and protest, why,” Kaiser tweeted in 2018, In a video published five years ago, he called immigrants “rapists” and questioned whether women should have the right to vote.

Chile’s presidential candidate Jose Antonio Caste casts his vote during the general election in the capital Santiago on November 21 [File: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

Kaiser condemned Kaiser’s comments, forcing him to resign from the Republican Party just days after he was elected – although Kaiser would retain his position as an independent deputy. Kaiser also apologized for his comments, insisting he was being sarcastic.

For Vergara, these “jokes” reflect serious moral flaws within the party. “They make jokes about rape and use arguments based on freedom of expression to defend their views, but that doesn’t make it any less violent,” she said.

The Republican Party did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment, nor did it contact the press for Cast’s presidential campaign.

But the cast has denied the allegations of misogyny. “I am the son, husband and father of tremendous women,” he said in a radio broadcast this week, “I will work tirelessly so that all women live in freedom and in peace.”

Women’s vote ‘very important’

However, the nature of her program has alienated many women, including traditionally conservative voters. Natalia Borquez is a 43-year-old dental surgeon who this month for the first time in her life decided to vote for a left-wing presidential candidate.

“With Kast, we will lose all our rights,” she told Al Jazeera, explaining that she found aspects of Kast’s program troubling, such as ending women’s ministry and prohibiting abortion under all circumstances. . “To take it away is to refuse to let these things happen, to present women as second-class citizens once again,” she said.

Chile’s presidential candidate, Gabriel Boric, has an edge over his far-right rival ahead of a runoff vote on December 19, according to polling data. [File: Andres Poblete/AP Photo/]

Bourquez planned to vote for Bourque because “she wants her vote to matter”, yet said it was not an easy decision. He said some of his conservative-leaning female friends have decided to abstain from the voluntary vote.

In a recent survey, Boric beats the cast by 8 percent, placing him in a comfortable lead, while 59 percent of women surveyed said they supported Borik.

Women make up 51 percent of Chile’s electorate, and Vergara said women like Bourquez and Valenzuela, who can use their vote to specifically condemn the cast, will play a key role in deciding the next president.

“In 1988, the vote of women was extremely important in the vote against the Pinochet regime,” she said. I hope history repeats itself this time.

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