The Churches and Gender Equality in Chile

Religious impact on sex education policies and on the introduction of emergency contraception

By Virginia Guzmán and Ute Seibert

By Virginia Guzmán and Ute Seibert
June 2010

This paper analyses the role of the churches in Chile’s public and political life. It focuses, specifically, on their influence in the process of restoring democracy during the 1990s, and examines their effect on the formulation and implementation of two policies important to women’s autonomy and to their ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights on a basis of equality. One of these policies is the National Sexual Education Policy, which gave rise to the programme known as Conversation Workshops on Emotion and Sexuality (Jornadas de Conversación sobre Afectividad y Sexualidad, or JOCAS)—a program directed at young teenage students. The second policy relates to providing free “morning after” pills at public health facilities. JOCAS was implemented at the beginning of the 1990s, as the transition to democracy began, while the policy on the “morning after” pill is part of the Fertility Regulation Standards proposed in the first decade of the new millennium.

For the churches in Chile, issues of education, family and sexuality serve as important moral mileposts in their effort to defend the gender status quo and the family, and to ensure that women’s sexuality remains subordinate to reproduction. From the 1990s to the present day, the debate on these issues has been highly controversial, and although there are differences within and between churches, they continue to interpret these issues within the context of their doctrinal frameworks. Sexual and reproductive rights constitute the most prominent area of political confrontation between the Catholic Church and progressive movements. The authors argue that the Catholic Church, due to its close ties to power, has been a major actor in policy formulation and implementation, while, at the same time, the minority status and heterogeneity of the evangelical churches, along with the discrimination they experience, accounts for their more pluralistic positions.

The analysis presented in this paper attempts to reconstruct the political camps, rhetoric and practices of those committed to these two policies. This includes governmental actors, religious authorities, political officials, social leaders and the women’s movement. It is divided into four sections. The opening section briefly reconstructs the historical background in order to highlight the role of Christian churches in Chile’s political and social life from the time of the country’s independence in the nineteenth century to the present. The second section analyses the National Sexual Education Policy to Improve Education, which provoked a major political debate in the 1990s. The third section analyzes emergency contraception, which was one of the measures that was set forth in the Fertility Regulation Standards and that has been central to the Church’s strong opposition to the Standards since 2000.




  • Virginia Guzman
    Virginia Guzman is the Assistant Director of the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer in Santiago, Chile. She holds academic degrees in Psychology and Social Sciences from the Universidad Catolica de Chile, the Sorbonne University, Paris, France, and from the Universidad Catolica Lima, Peru. Her publications in Spanish and English include “Democratic Governance and Gender: Possible Linkages” (United Nations Publications, 2004).
  • Amalia Mauro
    Amalia Mauro is the Director of the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer, Santiago, Chile. She is a sociologist and has published in Spanish on employment from a gender perspective and on violence against women.
  • Ute Seibert
    Ute Seibert is a feminist protestant theologian, Master in Education Universidad Central Santiago de Chile, Co-founder of Con-spirando, a women’s Collective working on ecofeminism, spirituality, theology and ethics. Member of the UNESCO Chair “Education in Human Rights”, Universidad Academia de Humanismo Cristiano. Facilitator of seminaries and workshops on the topics of feminist theology, religion and sexuality, body work, methodologies for cultural transformation in different Latin American countries. Author of several articles, co-author of “Del Cielo a la Tierra. Una antología de teología feminista”.

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