Reflecting the input of a record number of women and representatives from indigenous communities, the new Chilean constitution is being seen as a high-water mark for what countries can achieve when redrafting national documents based around wide-ranging inclusivity of its peoples and genders. Drafting of the new constitution is set to begin on July 4th, and will offer a potentially groundbreaking opportunity for the country to emerge from its dictatorship era and into a more equitable period that recognizes the inherent value of diverse voices and a sustainable future.
The call to draft a new constitution emerged from almost a year of continuous protest throughout Chile, which eventually forced President Sebastián Piñera to hold a nationwide referendum on the question of whether to replace the existing charter established during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1980.
Chileans answered that question with a resounding “yes,” voting to elect a progressive assembly to redraft Chile’s constitution. Approximately 70 percent of the seats consist of left-leaning or independent delegates, with a particular focus on gender parity and indigenous inclusion. The diverse makeup stands in stark contrast with the single author of Chile’s current governing document, priest Jaime Guzmán. Of the 155 elected Chileans, 17 seats are reserved for Indigenous people, and 77 for women – being the first constitution in the world to establish gender parity as a fundamental statute.
During the 2019 protests, the issue of representation in the Constitutional Assembly became a focal point for Chilean women, who crusaded for inclusion through the rallying cry “nunca más sin nosotras” (never again without us) during the protests. The Indigenous community echoed a similar demand for the new assembly to remedy their past exclusion. “This is a historic opportunity to make sure nobody is left behind,” said Gerela Ramírez Lepin, a university student from Curarrehue, which is a hub of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche community. “I may never get this chance again.”
Many Chileans also hope that the new constitution will be an opportunity for the introduction of unprecedented environmental protection measures. Environmental activists in Chile have expressed a desire to expand constitutional rights to address pressing issues such as Chile’s water scarcity, which has been exacerbated by drought and industries such as avocado farming and lithium extraction. Activists point out that the current constitution prioritizes private property rights over environmental protection. Yet, as environmental law professor Lynda Collins explains, that approach is ill-advised: “If property is constitutionally protected, but the environment is not, obviously the environment will lose. That’s not a fair fight.”
The fact that the new constitutional convention is focusing on environmental issues is not surprising given the disproportionate impact environmental degradation has had on indigenous communities. Nine of the seats in the assembly are reserved for members of the Mapuche, the largest indigenous group in Chile constituting about 12 percent of the Chilean population. Unregulated forestry activities have encroached on their land, making it all the more important that their voices be amplified on these environmental issues.
Once the popularly-elected assembly begins redrafting the constitution, it will have nine months to complete its work. Given the boldness of Chile’s constitutional experiment, all eyes will be watching to see how well the new charter achieves its ambitious objectives.
Caroline Arena for Times Media Mexico
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