Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Is this revolutionary or what?

In comparison with other countries, the United States' women's movement has been stagnating. We've fought to liberate women in Muslim societies, but we're still a minority in our own country. I'm not denying the fact that the women's rights movement has made much progress; women are filling more and more powerful positions in the government and private companies. But can anyone recall the name of a single female presidential candidate? No. Partly because of the small number of female candidates and partly because of our Republican/Democrat bipartisan system- and neither party has endorsed a female candidate for the presidency. There was only one woman of either party to run for the vice-presidency office: Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.

There are many woman leaders; some in countries you wouldn't expect, like Bangladesh, Mozambique and Germany.

So what prompted me to write on this topic? I was reading the January 19 City on a Hill Press, a UCSC student-run newspaper, and came across an article on Michelle Bachelet, a socialist who was elected to be Chile's first lady president. I hadn't known about the election or Chile's government, but I'm amazed that Bachelet was elected- politically, she has so many strikes against her: she's female, a single mother, an agnostic, and less conservative than the preceding regime (though that may be a plus, in the eyes of the citizens).

Chileans Elect Female Agnostic:
Michelle Bachelet embraces her past, promises bright future
Laura Chiriboga, Co-Editor-in-Chief

In a move to reshape the country's leadership, Chileans elected their first female president Sunday, putting their faith in socialist Michelle Bachelet, a single mother of three and survivor of the brutal violence carried out by Chile's past militant dictator.

The election of Bachelet, who was imprisoned and tortured during the 17-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, represents a progressive new era for a country long-considered one of the most conservative nations in Latin America.

"I'm very moved [by her elction]. I started crying when I found out,: activist, filmmaker and professor Zita Cabello-Barrueto told City on a Hill Press during a phone interview.

Cabello-Barrueto, a professor of international relations at San Francisco State University, herself a victim of torture during Pinochet's rule, met Bachelet six years ago. Cabello-Barrueto was in Chile conducting research on her brother's death for a lawsuit against the death squad secret agent responsible for his murder.

Many people at the top tries to forget [about what happened to him], but she wasn't one of them," Cabello-Barrueto said.
(two paragraphs omitted)
Cabello-Barrueto is hopeful that Chile's new leader will correct some of the falsities surrounding Pinochet's victims. "With her, we will rewrite history with the truth of what happened."

During a victory speech in Santiago, Bachelet addressed the suffering of her past, "Violence entered my life, destroying what I loved. Because I was a victim of hate, I have dedicated my life to turn hate into understanding, into tolerance and, why not say it, into love."

Bachelet is the third woman directly elected president in Latin America and the first to do it without garnering fame and popularity because of a husband. A single mother of three and a known agnostic, Bachelet starkly contrasts the highly conservative, Roman Catholic image long-associated with Chile.

"[Bachelet] embraces the alternative family struggle," said Professor Rosa-Linda Fregoso, chair of the Latin American and Latino Studies department at UC Santa Cruz. "She represents a new model of the family--a new image of woman hood."

Cabello-Barrueto was in Chile in December when legislative elections gave Bachelet's center-left coalition control of the majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1990. She is not as surprised by Bachelet's success in collecting 52 percent of the vote as others.

"There is this joke in Chile. They say 'Michelle is the tortoise on top of the electrical pole,'" pausing mid-joke to laugh, she continued, "no one knows how she got up there and no one knows how to get her down."
Bachelet, who has announced plans to fill half of her cabinet with women, posits hope for equality for Chilean women and feminists worldwide.

"Her election is a signal for women's rights movement," said Fregoso who is teaching a Gender, Transnationalism, and Globalization class this quarter. "It will be very positive for the global movement."

However, as a woman, Bachelet enters office under greater scrutiny.

"When I was in Chile last December 2005, I asked many people who their favorite candidate was," Cabello-Barrueto told CHP via email. "Those who didn't support Michelle consistently answered the same: she is a woman, she will be easily manipulated by the politicians so she will not be able to control the government. I'm afraid that [in] any decision Michelle will make, she will be accused of being controlled by political parties."

All challenges considered, Bachelet's rise to presidency symbolizes forward motion for a country still recovering from years of human rights violations under Pinochet.

"She is not forgetting the past, she is giving meaning to it," Cabello-Barrueto continued. "She will have dialogues with those responsible for what happened, not because she wants to justify events, but because she wants to understand them, so we don't repeat them again."

City on a Hill Press. January 19, 2006. Volume 40, Issue 12. Page 11.

Is this revolutionary or what? In one election Chile overthrew a conservative military ditatorship and voted into office a single female non-Roman Catholic. Feminists should take note of this. Maybe it'll put some life back into the women's movement.

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