That a government declares itself feminist may sound very good in these times. However, at least in Latin America, a declaration of this nature is not without its problems. Rita Segato, an intellectual figure in Latin American feminism —and one of President Boric’s personal guests at his inauguration ceremony—, has insisted on the patriarchal and colonial character of our nation states and has not ceased to warn about the dangers and limits that this entails. institutional temptation: that excessive trust in the State and in the transformative effects of having feminists in high positions of power or of implementing advanced gender policies. The recent experiences of progressive governments on the continent prove him right. The State is not enough to change society. But, as Rita herself acknowledges, acting from within is an unavoidable task for the forces that intend to deploy a historic project that makes possible, also taking her words, greater well-being for more people, and in Chile, a considerable portion of those forces are today, and for the first time, leading the State.
Among the Chilean feminists who have entered the government after years of street fighting and participation in social organizations, there is no room for naivety. They do so with an awareness of the proven capacity that institutions have to neutralize, tame and discipline disruptive movements. However, the historical responsibility that falls to this new generation of female political leaders makes it necessary to take a step forward and take risks. The problem lies rather in determining the strategic sense that feminists have for reaching institutionality, and how to deploy there a policy aimed at dismantling the colonial and patriarchal structures of the Chilean neoliberal State, an apparatus built for the production of private accumulation, dispossession of great social majorities, destruction of nature and oppression of indigenous peoples. What Chile requires is another State, and although the challenge is daunting, and far exceeds what a government can do in four years, the important thing is to move, albeit slowly, in that direction. The presence of feminists in government has precisely that meaning.
In these few months, President Boric has given powerful signs that he is taking seriously the feminist stamp that he wanted to imprint on his mandate: he formed a ministerial cabinet that for the first time is made up of more women than men, he appointed the prime minister of Interior and Public Security in the history of the country, and, also in an unprecedented way, integrated the head of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity into its political committee. Women and feminists figure today in the highest instances of political decision. Similarly, in legislative matters we have seen a government concerned with improving the concrete life of working women and with ending injustices and humiliations that are still naturalized at the social level. Along these lines, a few days ago a law was approved that will make child support payments effective and that will directly benefit the thousands of women who suffer this generalized form of economic violence on a daily basis.
Antonia Orellana, minister of the branch, and one of the powerful leaders of this government, was a key figure in the rapid processing of this law and its unanimous approval in Congress. Likewise, this week the executive reactivated the discussion of the bill that reduces the working day from 45 to 40 hours per week, thus responding to a very felt desire of the workers of the country and recovering a historical flag of the labor movement: subtract labor time to capital. On this occasion, the feminist eye of the government was focused on the presentation of a series of indications aimed at promoting social and gender co-responsibility in care matters to prevent the reduction of paid work time from being transformed, as it would probably happen if Specific actions will be taken to avoid it, in more free time for men and more time for care and unpaid domestic work for women. These policies are virtuous examples of what feminism can do from the institutions, and although, as feminism itself has warned, they are still limited, they will make it possible to generate more favorable living conditions for women and society as a whole. And it is not a little.
Now, beyond the actions that the State must undertake, building a feminist government also has a strategic dimension that is, after all, the most important from the point of view of the general political process. Keeping the cycle of social transformations won by popular mobilization open and sustaining a long-term path of dismantling the neoliberal architecture of the State requires social forces. This is another of the great lessons learned from the experience of the left in the 20th century and so far in the 21st: it is not possible to sustain processes of change only from the State, without popular protagonism. It is therefore necessary to build forces in society and strengthen actors willing to defend the advancement of their interests against the economic and political powers that will seek to prevent it by all means, as we have seen these months with the brutal dirty campaign of the promoters of the “Rejection of ” to the new Constitution.
In Chile, there is no doubt that women and feminisms have been the main force for social democratization and for containing the advance of the extreme right. Without going any further, the popular revolt of October 2019 cannot be explained without the massive feminist mobilizations that preceded it; The achievements in terms of parity, sexual and reproductive rights, substantive equality and autonomy, which were reflected in the proposal for a new Constitution, and which, if approved, will put Chile at the forefront of these matters worldwide, were only possible due to the existence of an organized feminism that decided to give the dispute within the Convention, and of thousands of women mobilized to promote these advances and willing to confront those who tried to block them; Gabriel Boric’s own victory in the second round was produced thanks to the massive and forceful support of women and the result of the plebiscite on September 4 depends largely on the support they give to the new constitutional proposal.
With these elements on the table, it is clear that for any project of transformation, for the left in general and for this government in particular, feminism is a force that cannot be dispensed with. However, for a virtuous convergence to occur and creative ways to forge alliances within and outside the state to emerge, it will be necessary to openly and frankly elaborate the tensions between autonomy and institutionality. It will not be an easy task, but at least there are privileged conditions for this political experimentation: the government has among its ranks hardened feminist militants and in the field of autonomous organizations the question of political projection and the post-plebiscite institutional struggle has been installed hard. Common challenges invite dialogue.
A feminist government is a risky and stimulating bet. In Chile, it is a project that is just beginning and for whose success there is no guarantee. For the same reason, it is a good time to remember the advice of Aníbal Quijano wisely recovered by Latin American feminisms: in the State one must learn to “live within and against”. Inside, to push policies that manage to improve the living conditions of the working majorities, and against, to combat the patriarchal and colonial inertia that this structure entails. An uncomfortable way of living, but perhaps the only one that will allow the forces of the Chilean left to make the utopia of a feminist government a reality without getting lost in the labyrinths of power.
Pierina Ferretti She is the executive director of the Nodo XXI Foundation.