Ten universities still occupied in fight to end machismo

The so-called ‘feminist wave’, started in mid-April, that took over by force 22 Chilean universities or faculties in demand for improved sexual harassment protocols, better conditions for female students and an end to ‘machismo’ is on the wane but far from over.

Last Monday 74 days of feminist occupation of Universidad de Chile's law faculty ended but 10 universities, mainly state ones, are still under student occupation, among them the Northern universities of Tarapacá, Atacama and La Serena.

Also, fresh skirmishes between feminist demonstrators and university administrators are still taking place.

On 8 July female students at the Santiago-based Universidad Tecnológica Metropolitana (UTEM) carried out a quick takeover of the university. It led them to ask for the resignation of Luis Pinto, UTEM’s rector, because instead of confronting them he allegedly hid in his office – although the rector denies this – and had called female student negotiators “dictators”.

This July the rector of Universidad de Santiago de Chile terminated the contract of Pablo Vera, a doctor in psychology, accused by four psychologists, all ex-students, of sexual harassment and abuse.

The media limelight was captured by the ending on 9 July of 74 days of feminist occupation of Universidad de Chile's law faculty.

The feminist revolution was mainly triggered by the failure of the university’s law faculty to sack Professor Carlos Carmona, ex-president of Chile's Constitutional Tribunal, who was accused by a student of sexual harassment. Students failed to get Carmona expelled – he was only barred from teaching this and next year – but got their faculty to improve its sexual abuse protocols, to endeavour to match male and female teacher numbers and to implement policies against sexist education.

The feminist takeover is also over at private Universidad Central de Chile after investigations of sexual abuse and harassment were opened for 14 academics; they were banned from teaching for two weeks.

Classes were reinitiated at Universidad Diego Portales after its authorities agreed to 29 of 32 student demands, including using gender inclusive, non-sexist language, creating a gender department, instituting special rules for students who are mothers or fathers, and respecting the 'social' name of transgender students.

Classes were also restarted at Universidad Austral de Chile in Southern Chile after two months. The agreement reached includes the creation of a gender, diversity and non-discrimination observatory. Striking students suffered a setback, however, when the Valdivia law court ruled that the sacking of Professor Alejandro Yáñez, sanctioned for sexual abuse, was “arbitrary” because Yáñez had received a double sanction for the same misdeed.

Gender equality map

The Ministry of Education published on 4 July a 'map' of gender equity in higher education, which provides a snapshot of the strength of female students in Chilean universities. The study finds that 63% of Chilean undergraduates are female plus women also have more MAs than their male counterparts. Men however dominate when it comes to PhDs and academic posts.

On the downside, only a third of Chile's 59 universities have sexual abuse protocols, according to the ministry’s document.

In the meantime, 1.1% more students than last year – 1,176,915 – matriculated for higher education studies either at universities or technical colleges, according to figures released on 11 July by the National Education Council. In universities, the increase of registered students was 2.1%.

The anti-sexist wave, which started at universities, has emboldened other abused Chilean women to speak up. The news media has been full of stories by actresses or actresses-in-waiting revealing details of sexual abuses they suffered at the hands of two of the country’s best-known film-makers.

The feminist wave is sweeping other Latin American countries as well. The Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled on 10 July that the sacking by a leading university of a female teacher, who had become a bothersome defender of equal rights, was "illegitimate". The teacher must be reinstated, the court said, and the university has to pass a protocol on sexual violence and harassment.

Four universities – Universidad de Chile, a leading campus of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Universidad Diego Portales and Universidad de Las Américas – have installed mixed, male-female bathrooms, following a recommendation for primary and secondary schools issued by the Ministry of Education "to provide facilities for trans children for the use of bathrooms and showers ... that respect their sexual identity".