A Chilean protest song damning the culture of rape that went viral in early December this year has inspired people all over the world. The song, Un Violador en Tu Camino (A rapist in your path), written by Lastesis, a feminist theater group, was performed at the Chilean protests calling for a change in the constitution.
The song’s powerful lyrics point to the political nature of rape, demanding that we look at the political forces that systemically allow rape to persist.
“The rapist is you, the rapist is the police, the judge, the state, the president. The oppressive state is the male rapist.” goes the lyrics.
“It’s not my fault, not where I was, not what I wore, the rapist is you!”
the song can be seen here.
On Monday, Nov 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, feminist collective Lastesis from Valparaiso took the streets in the center of Santiago de Chile and showed a stunning performance in front of the Supreme Court of Chile. The powerful statement against sexual assault of women by men can be seen as an allegory of the accusation of the suppressive Chilean state, whose police and military forces have killed, tortured and violated numerous protesters as well as innocent bystanders during the biggest civil protests since the end of the military dictatorship in 1989.
Feminism in Chile
The women’s movement in Chile can be traced to the nineteenth century. Early woman’s rights movements focused on, what is called first-wave feminist issues, like the right to work, vote, get an education and own property. Feminism was earlier associated with middle-class European women.
With the military coup organized by Augusto Pinochet, the state became intensely repressive against all political activity. The labor movement and struggles from the indigenous communities were under heavy fire. During Pinochet’s regime, women organized study groups to discuss women’s issues. These would often happen in people’s homes or other “non-political” spaces to avoid posing a direct threat to Pinochet’s regime, though a lot of revolutionary movements working to topple Pinochet worked in those spaces. The intense oppression against traditional movements, which were male-dominated to these spaces, shifted the leadership and content of these movements towards women. Some circles grew in size and resembled the church mass. In Santiago, the Círculo de Estudios de la Mujer, or Women’s Studies Circle was said to have had hundreds of participants.
After Pinochet stepped down from power, it is not clear what had happened. Many of the feminists of this period had a complicated relationship with the state.While the woman’s movement made certain gains, they lost a presence in the public sphere. Marital Rape was criminalized in 1999. In 2006, Michelle Bachelet became the first women President of Chile, winning with 54% of the vote. Some scholars have said that in this period, the feminist movement moved away from mass organizing, into more formal domains.
Neo-liberal reforms instituted by Pinochet meant that healthcare, public transport, and education, which disproportionately affect women and their labour, were hit hard. With the co-option of women’s issues by institutions of the state and the destruction of traditional labour movements, the ability of women’s movements to organically address these issues fell. Women continued to suffer, and many women began to feel the traditional feminist movement could not take up their issues.
The Mapuche make up about 10% of the population of Chile, and nearly 85% of the Chilean indigenous community. In the Mapuche community, oral traditions have been very important in remembering violence, both by the state and by patriarchy. With the rise of Pinochet, the violence increased. Mapuche women, in their traditional roles in the society as healers, educators, and child-rearing, had an intimate relationship with the environment, public sector, and the community. They have been torch-bearers for resistance, linking together many issues organically. The protests in November also speak to the heavy oppression of the indigenous population.
Salvador Allende, who was deposed of by Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, was said to have had a more conciliatory position regarding the Mapuche, as his government recognized that they had a distinct culture and heritage within Chile. Pinochet instituted 701 Decree that gave up to 75% subsidies for lumber companies that managed the forest. This led to the impoverishment of those dependent on the forest, and a huge toll on the environment. The Mapuche who resisted were constantly called terrorists and threats to national security. Leaders were frequently detained. Law 18.314 (the Anti-terrorist law) was frequently used to crush dissent. The result was that the Mapuche saw White supremacy, state repression and corporate greed along the same axis. As such repression makes women especially vulnerable, Mapuche women have associated the state as an apparatus of patriarchy as well.
The children from all communities were raised in this basic context. With the heavy suppression of all forms of mass organizing, the children heard stories of mass resistance, but did not have the opportunity to see it. Women taking their analysis, oral histories and memories of older struggles were the inspiration for the next generation, though their generation had another set of struggles.
During the 2000s, the cost of education and transport rose, which directly affected students. While they remembered other forms of struggle from their homes, these issues prompted protests. From 2006, when students across Santiago marched in protest against the Neo-liberal education system, where the public provision of education was closing down, in favor of a voucher system, where poorer students would go to private schools in exchange for compensation from the state.
From 2006-2013, student-led struggles grew and led to certain concessions from the state, though these concessions were lost in court. Influenced by social media, many of these struggles began to interface with movements they saw online. The Arab Spring, Black Lives Matters, Me too!, and marches for the environment would find connection with the protesters in Chile.
Being a street-level mass struggle, these movements could coordinate with many others, be they labour movements, indigenous movements, sexual assault, etc. From these protests, we can see how a culture of mass mobilization can be created anew after decades.
The 2019 Chilean protests, like the 2006 protests, started ultimately from a rise in the metro fare, which the children of Santiago found unreasonable. The lessons from the Chilean winter of 2011-13 showed them that their movement could not restrict itself to education, and called for a total change on the system. As their movements evolved, they exposed the interconnectedness of injustice, pointing the patriarchy, the state, capitalism, the abuse of nature, all as part of their struggle.
The author is a mathematician based in Bangalore. Views are personal.