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On Wednesday afternoon, Chilean journalist and 2012 Yale World Fellow Paula Escobar Chavarría gave a virtual Poynter Fellowship talk on gender violence in her home country. 

The talk was sponsored by the Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program as well as the Yale’s Council of Latin American and Iberian Studies, or CLAIS, as part of its Deconstructing Gender in Latin America Colloquia series. 

An author and professor of journalism, Escobar Chavarría spoke on increased violence against women as a devastating and yet often overlooked side-effect of historic unemployment during the worldwide pandemic. She described gender violence as “the other pandemic” in Chile. 

“There has been a very strong rise, historical rise, of women being beaten by their husbands or partners, and an increase in calls to emergency numbers of the Chilean Ministry of Women,” Escobar Chavarría said. “[The pandemic] has unveiled all the violence that was repressed in these households.”

Escobar Chavarría noted that before the pandemic, Chilean women’s rights groups had achieved several historic highs. International Women’s Day marches on March 12 drew record-breaking crowds protesting for greater government accountability and a gender equality agenda.

Furthermore, the Chilean protests regarding economic inequality in 2019 and 2020 resulted in a national referendum on Oct. 25 calling for a new constitution. In addition, protestors successfully demanded that any constitution be created by a convention with gender parity.

Escobar Chavarría said on Wednesday that this marked the first time women could significantly reshape the country’s most important legal document, ensuring greater representation in government for generations to come. Discrimination on the basis on sex is not currently explicitly prohibited in the Political Constitution of the Republic of Chile. 

The pandemic’s shuttering of the economy in March, however, meant that women were forced to stay home, placing them at greater danger of domestic violence, Escobar Chavarría said. Furthermore, lockdowns made it increasingly difficult for women suffering from violence to access government and police services. Escobar Chavarría added that — since many Chilean women are expected to work, perform house tasks and take care of children — the loss of both employment and access to childcare resulted in skyrocketing levels of stress and anxiety among women. 

“Chile is so far away from developed countries in machismo and patriarchy,” Escobar Chavarría said. 

The journalist went on to highlight several projects implemented during the pandemic that have helped relieve gender violence. The #mascarilla19 campaign, which was first established in Spain, allows women to discreetly request emergency services at pharmacies across the country. Police and Ministry of Women services also recently moved to mobile applications such as Whatsapp — allowing women to access them while quarantining at home. Additionally, women’s shelters continue to receive women and children who have been picked up by authorities after calling government hotlines. 

But these efforts, Escober Chavarría warned, are not complete solutions to gender violence.

“Being in a shelter during the pandemic is very, very hard. What do they do with kids who don’t have school? And they can’t apply for a job,” Escobar Chavarría said. “The situation has created enormous problems for women suffering this violence.”

Escobar Chavarría underscored the need for greater societal cooperation, beginning with a stronger sense of sisterhood among women. According to Escobar Chavarría, “the most powerful force on earth is sorority.” 

When asked about the role Yale could play in fighting for gender inequality, Escobar Chavarría called for the formation of a student coalition with the goal of making worldwide gender violence statistics more publicly available. According to Escobar Chavarría, Yale’s strong community of women’s and feminist groups make the university particularly suited to future gender parity initiatives.

“With Paula as our inaugural speaker, I am excited to kick off this year’s theme, which is Deconstructing Gender in Latin America,” said CLAIS Chair Claudia Valeggia. “We have some exciting developments around this theme. We are launching the Latin American Interdisciplinary Gender Network, which we are doing in partnership with [National Autonomous University of Mexico]. The inaugural virtual conference that will formally launch this research network is slated to be in November.”

Valeggia also expressed optimism about CLAIS’ activities in the face of the pandemic. She hopes that in the future, the integration of virtual events like Escobar Chavarría’s talk into CLAIS programming will help the group reach more people, including alumni and remote learners.

CLAIS Program Director Asia Neupane, who also heads the European Studies Council, expressed excitement about the group’s upcoming events.

“One of the reasons we decided to have Paula launch off [the series] was to make sure that we actually had a prominent journalist, author, and professor from Latin America talk about gender in Latin America,” said Neupane. “We’re actually going to be doing a lot of work around protests later on in the semester.”

Bill Morrison, a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning filmmaker, will speak as the next Poynter Fellow on Sep. 30.

Isaac Yu | isaac.yu@yale.edu

ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu writes about transportation, traffic safety and urban planning in New Haven. He is also a production and design staffer for the News. Hailing from Garland, Texas, he is a Berkeley College first-year majoring in English and Urban Studies.