On 4 September, Chile decided to reject the draft of the new constitution, with almost 62 per cent of voters against it.
This event turns around a process that began in 2019, when thousands of Chileans took to the streets to protest against the current constitution, which was drafted during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
The new text, considered one of the most progressive in the world, became famous for the rights it granted to indigenous people, women, and its efforts to protect the environment. It aimed to "achieve substantive equality and parity" and was a historic milestone, as never before had a woman participated in drafting a constitution in the country. It was also the first constitution in the world to be drafted equally by women and men.
If passed, all representative offices at the national, regional and local levels, as well as boards of directors of public and semi-public institutions, would have been required to have at least 50 per cent women members. The right to abortion would also have been enshrined in law.
The proposal would have granted more rights than any previous document, including the right to education, clean air and water, food, housing, health, internet access and care "from birth to death".
So, why did Chileans reject the draft?
The new constitution would have meant radical changes for the country, and this is probably one of the reasons for the outcome. Some analysts believe that it sought to change too much, and too fast. The extensive text of 388 articles may also have caused confusion among the electorate and generated a sense of uncertainty and fear about the implications and costs that the reforms might have entailed.
Some of the rights it planned to recognise, such as the right to abortion, also caused controversy in Chile’s conservative society and the Catholic Church, which is still very important in the country. There was also a major campaign of fake news and disinformation, in which, for example, false information about abortion circulated, claiming that it would be allowed up to nine months of pregnancy.
The text also planned to recognise Chile as a plurinational state, acknowledging the country’s diversity and giving importance to indigenous communities. However, its detractors interpreted it as a danger to Chile's unity, arguing that plurinationalism would further fragment the nation.
Other experts claim that the rejection of the constitution was also a way of rejecting and showing discontent towards the new government, which is being criticised for its insufficient measures to tackle some of the country's problems.
Some of the controversies surrounding the members of the constitution-drafting convention may also explain the outcome. One member, for instance, lied about being diagnosed with cancer and used it as part of his campaign. Another one caused outrage by taking a shower in the middle of a vote that was conducted remotely.
While some experts claim that the rejection of the constitution represents a failure in the fight for human rights in the region, others argue that it is the beginning of a much deeper political and social revolution.
Although Chile rejected the new text, it also made it clear that it disapproves of the current constitution: 78% of voters chose to change it in 2020.
The reform is now fraught with uncertainty and will take time to materialise, but president Gabriel Boric is already preparing a new constitutional process.
By recognising that the outdated constitutions governing some countries need to be modified and modernised, Latin America is taking small steps to better meet the demands of today's society. The voices of women, indigenous people, LGBTI communities and climate defenders are becoming louder. Chile may not become a parity democracy tomorrow, but important changes are already taking place in the region.
And if we can learn anything from what has happened, it is that the fight for women's rights is a road full of barriers imposed by the societies themselves. Although several countries are moving towards a more equal distribution of decision-making positions, this does not guarantee that conservative societies will change their way of thinking and seeing the world. Structural changes are needed, and for this, Latin America needs more women and minorities in high-level positions.
There is a long way to go, but the journey is full of hope. One day, those who fight for change will be the majority.