Some perceptions & women’s roles in Chile

I’m a stranger in a strange land and because of this, I spend a lot of time learning and observing my new home (well, relatively new since pretty soon it will be a year since I arrived in this narrow land.)

Of particular interest to me is the role of women and perceptions of women’s roles here. Heavy, I know but I’m guessing it’s due in part to my own generalizations of women, men and traditions apparent here that can’t be sawed apart, no matter the force applied. Of course I consulted my friend Google and found a very interesting article from ReVista, The Harvard Review of Latin America on the contradictions apparent in women’s lives here in Chile. The very first sentence of this article made me want to pack up my bags and leave the country immediately … it reads:

“Seven out of every ten Chileans (69%) believe that “Having a job is fine, but what most women really want is a house and children,” according to a July 2003 study by the Santiago-based Centro de Estudios Públicos.” In my usual P.I. way, I decided to go straight to the source and actually review this study conducted by the CEP, Centro de Estudios Públicos or in English, Center of Public Studies. The CEP is basically a type of think tank and they perform various kinds of studies on behavior, society and culture in Chile. It has several publications and the one I consulted was Estudios Públicos, (Public Studies) which is a quarterly journal containing essays, studies and commentaries by academics and specialists in various fields of study.

And yes, I found that this study, conducted in December 2002, truly does demonstrate the ideological chasms that exist regarding the subject of women and the workplace, not only between groups of people but within the same person!

The majority 40.7% of those questioned in a survey about Women and the Work Place are relatively CLOSED to the subject of a woman working outside the home and only 12.3% are completely open to the fact. And the thing is, these numbers are pretty evenly divided between men’s opinions and women’s. Interestingly enough, those that are open to the topic of women working outside the home are between the ages of 18-24 BUT what’s MORE interesting is that the second most supportive group are 55 and older! I attribute this to the moms and dads that age who themselves put kids through college and are eager to see them succeed in the workplace.

Here’s the picture on the following question: “Taking into account all the good and the bad, family life is negatively affected when the woman works full time.”

Do you see that big red line? That’s Chile! That’s the majority of people agreeing with this statement! The bottom five, those who agree the least, are the U.S., England, Sweden, (East) Germany and Canada.

Here’s a picture with the opposite lay out …

Except the question associated with the graph above is the following: “A woman who works can establish as much of a solid and profound relationship with her kids as a woman who doesn’t work.” And as you can see, Chile agrees with this statement the least. THE LEAST! Am I in the Twilight Zone, people??!!

Sigh. I might be.

This study goes on for 42 pages and if you’re interested in seeing it in all its gory detail, you can download it here. It’s presented as a Power Point so it’s fabulously easy to read. Not all of it is horrible, but it’s insightful and quite a demonstration on the conflicting views that Chileans have on various topics regarding women and her role in the Chilean society.

Another topic, independent of this study (though I’m sure it’s covered within a study done by the CEP), is that of maternity leave in Chile and how women are perceived as a result of it. President Piñera has created the Women, Work and Maternity Commission which is made up of men and women tasked with providing recommendations on the following: should Chile allow for longer maternity leaves or should Chile allow for all women the right to maternity leave?

The answer, to me, is obvious. All women should have the right to maternity leave, NOT JUST the 50% who have long-term contracts with their employers. As it stands, women who have temporary contracts or who work seasonal jobs, don’t share the same benefits and they can easily be fired once their government backed 18 week maternity leave is up. On the other hand, women who have long-term contracts are protected for ONE YEAR after their maternity leave, in which these women cannot be fired from their on-going, full contract jobs. This discrepancy is ridiculous with obvious favoritism towards those fortunate to have a long-term contract.

Here’s what works against women in Chile: Employers are complaining of the numerous costs associated with hiring women of childbearing age (i.e. me, you, many women I know). Examples of such costs include not being able to fire women during maternity leave (that whole year), the need to hire replacements when women abuse medical leaves to care for ill infants, and the loss of productivity for the one hour daily the women are given to feed their children under two years. Can I just toss that last one in the garbage since I can’t imagine that a company loses all that much in one hour. But those first two are certainly actively putting up walls around any advancement women may have in the workplace. Why would an employer hire a woman when it’s far less risky to hire a man – he’s only allowed 5 days maternity leave and will be back at work in no time. Because the government pays for the woman’s salary during her maternity leave, the option of working from home isn’t really an option. I guess the government wants you suckling your baby or something. Or vice versa. And I’m sorry, I’ve heard firsthand of how women DO abuse the maternity leave bit and literally FLAUNT their immunity in their boss’s faces. Despicable on all fronts but especially for women’s strides in the workplace. I wish such women would just quit their jobs like they truly want to and allow the rest of us to work our way up the corporate ladder.

THERE MUST BE room for women like me to move their way up in Chile and allow for perception of women in leadership roles to shift. In a perfect world, the women who want to be at home, full time with their kids, would have the ability to do so. Because in that perfect world, the roles and corporate positions that those women merely take up for the sake of taking up, would be freed for women who are career oriented and ready to dedicate their time to the company.

And perhaps THEN there wouldn’t be any room for men and women alike to judge women as incapable of excelling in one role or another. We’d be give a break and allowed to excel in whatever we put our efforts in…

Call me crazy.

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11 thoughts on “Some perceptions & women’s roles in Chile

  1. I showed Seba these graphs and he brought up a good point — while obviously ridiculously chauvinism has to do a lot with Chileans' views on women in the workforce, he said that the fact that here working full time means you probably work a 50+ hour work week. In the U.S. full time is 40+ hours. And I would guess in Germany, it's even lower. So clearly that would have to do with the ability of a woman to establish calida relacion con sus hijos too.

    And, "Can I just toss that last one in the garbage since I can't imagine that a company loses all that much in one hour."

    Haha, there's a study floating around out there somewhere about how Chileans work more hours than anywhere else in the world and are less productive than anywhere else in the world, so yes. Yes, you can just toss that one in the garbage 🙂

  2. Pookie, the work week here is by law 45 hours, just five more than in the US. I read that somewhere but I can't find it in this study. Regardless, the first assertion made, still kills me. Women prefer homes and kids above all else? Shoot me now.

  3. nice post muffin. i enjoyed in from my office in nyc : ) as someone who works a lot and who also wants to have a family and who's best chilean girlfriend is a consultant at mckinsey (i.e. works horrific hours) and is also pregnant…these are all things that i think about…i often wonder if chilean women are less go-getter than my fellow gringa women. the jury's still out on that one. i will respond to kyle though – i dont care about any statistics about chileans working longer – first of all they take long lunches and have tons of vacas…and 2nd of all i dont know one single american that works at 40 hour week (and i'm not just talking about my lawyer/banker buddies…i mean everyone)…i think chileans are much less effective in the workplace IN GENERAL …but not always. you find the same hard core cut throat work ethic among the bankers in JPM Chile as in JPM NYC. i will say that i think that in my experience w/the upper class chilean women that i know v/s upper class american women that i know (obviously totally subjective and not representative) more of the upper class american women work…pursue advanced degrees…put off motherhood. anyways i'm in the middle of reading the 10 year nap…so far about a women who gave up her career in law to raise her son…and befriends a hard-working mother who stayed at work…interesting so far…nyt best seller that i found laying around my parents apartment. i'm only about 150 pages in but also brings up a lot of these issues. think you'd like it. besos pookie.

  4. There is a lot more to change in Chilean society before it is really feasible for a majority of mothers to work in Chile. Schools and their schedules do not work well for working mums and if you have more than one child, even worse. On my best day I have 4 trips per day to school. So even when a mother wants to work, she needs to have flexible hours or earn enough to have others step in and pick up/drop off the kids, and make arrangements for their lunch. My guess is that many mothers and families of school age kids find this all just too hard, and see it as bad/inconvenient for their families. Just a few of the many many societal factors that make working mums fairly lowly regarded.

  5. I definitely think about this and can talk myself round in circles on the whole topic. I think these issues are just as true in the US as they are here – maybe the answers to the questions aren't the same, but the "risk" of hiring a woman and the debate between more maternity leave helping or hurting women is something I've heard brought up there as well. In the US the difference that I've noticed is that there is more societally expressed acceptance for working women, but the women themselves still feel guilty or overwhelmed or stressed. To be honest, I don't know how the question about job vs. house and kids was phrased, but I might have answered on the side of kids myself. I don't imagine myself giving up work, and I'm obviously not a mom yet, but I think I would pick my family over my career if the question only allowed me one. Working is something I enjoy and also something that pays the bills, but I imagine I could get similar satisfaction out of doing a significant non-paid volunteer project well if money weren't a concern. But I'd rather have it all 🙂

    That said, I am surprised that Chile is the absolute worst in both these questions, although I wonder how/if that has changed in the past 8 years. I feel like Chile is in a phase of changing some of the more antiquated views on women, so I am hopeful that there might have been some improvement even in such a short time period. I'm also interested in the fact that the statistics for all the other countries are 16 years old – I wonder how those have changed as well.

  6. Wow, those graphs are scary. I used to argue at length about this topic with my former boss, a Chilean man around 50 years old. When I explained why I found our company's hiring policies sexist (they are but seem to be improving slightly), he responded that it was unfeasible to hire lots of women for jobs like mine because we would go have babies and let our work responsibilities become a secondary priority. My argument, which I rarely heard raised in Chile, was that this wouldn't be such an issue if mothers and fathers shared parenting responsibilities more equally. The fact that men only get five days for paternity leave reinforces the idea that early childcare should fall almost exclusively to mothers. When we discussed these issues in my Chilean gender studies class, someone made the interesting point that recent legislation aiming to protect women — specifically the law that allots stay-at-home moms pensions based on the number of children they've had — unintentionally (?) reaffirm this traditional maternal role. I think maternity is wonderful and should be protected; I just think protecting and encouraging responsible fatherhood as well would benefit everyone.

  7. This was a great post and I agree with a lot of the comments. I think it would be interesting to see the answers to this survey today, and maybe the differences between different socio-economic classes. I'm really glad that (temporarily) I don't have to think carrer vs. child, but I know that day will come soon and it's going to be a tough decision. Luckily, my mom had a flexible schedule when we were growing up and she spent a lot of time with us. I would like to be able to do that too- and I think when it really comes down to it, that's more important to me than a super high powered career. Does that make me anti-feminist or not ambitious? I don't think so. But I understand that it's a REALLY hard decision for a lot of women, in both the US and Chile (and many other countries as well) and I hope that in the years to come, there will be a societal shift that will make it all a bit easier.

  8. Leigh, to me one of the issues with what you're suggesting – and I know you're not the only one – is that men cannot breastfeed. I know moms can pump so dads can bottle feed, but that's not entirely the same thing. Although we want to be treated the same, the fact is that when it comes to children, men and women are not the same. I'm not saying it's not a good option to offer, since I'm sure for some families it would work, but I don't know if it would have such a widespread effect when the whole topic of breastfeeding is something that lots of women feel so passionate about from what I understand.

    I'm not disagreeing that it would be good to crate societal change that encourages shared responsibility for parenting and recognition of that sharing, I just really don't know what the best way to go about that would be in the early stages of a baby's life considering the biological facts.

  9. hmm. very interesting post and comments. There is so much to say, really. First, I can totally understand why some women say they would prefer to stay at home with the kids… it is easier on many fronts. I am home for now with my two kids and it is not for me, I need to do something besides parenting… but let me tell you, working full time and being a mom, especially to very young kids is very hard, even here in the US (where help in the home is not as affordable and sometimes family is not helpful). You work full time, both parents come home tired and have to worry about dinner and laundry and kids and such–it is exhausting. Getting up and taking kids to daycare and getting to work by 8 SUCKS! Plus, babies and toddlers, if they go to daycare get sick a lot–like you would not believe how much– 6-8 times a year, at least, and they are out for a week each time, usually. I can't tell you how many weeks my husband and I have had to scramble to figure who is going to stay home when and miss work when.
    I think the US is finally making progress in terms of equal parental rights i.e., giving dads the same amount of paternity leave (6 weeks)–though many don't get it or feel pressured not to take it. And many women don't have jobs here that give you paid maternity leave or that are supportive when your baby is sick. But there is still alot that falls to women–some of it is bilogical, as Emily points out, but a lot of it is cultural/societal–and goes WELL beyond the breastfeeding period. (who gets up at night when babay cries–when feeding is not an issue? who takes off work when baby is sick? who takes baby to the Dr.? it goes on forever…)
    I think the fact that Chile has some good protection for moms is great, but it also leads to blatant discrimination. In the US it seems it is the opposite, less discrimination but less maternity leave and not the same kind of job security.
    Another factor for Chile, is that for middle classes and up, you can usually afford a nana, even when moms stay home they have someone help them cook and clean and help with the kids–so there is less stress that way.
    And if I may say, hopefully delicately–Not that there aren't valid complaints about the system as it is and perhaps some women do take advantage of it, and there are certainly stereotypes and attitudes that need to be changed etc., but it is kind of disheartening when others (particularly those without kids) take issue with parental rights, as if just because some people choose to have children their lives should be made miserable. No one would comment about someone's medical leave for cancer, because that is serious, while having children is almost considered frivolous (sometimes that is the attitude here in the US, espcially now as more women choose NOT to have kids).
    One of the things I love about some European countries is that they seem much more supportive all around about parenthood–they take it seriously as a society–paternity leave, long maternity leaves so moms are not worried about balancing everything at the same time, free daycare, I believe in many countries (like health care and education)–it is like their societies have decided that it is in EVERYONE'S best interest to have healthy, happy, educated, stress-free parents and kids–their future citizens–

    sorry, maybe a little rambly…

  10. btw: I am not saying that you were taking issue with parental rights or want parents to be miserable, but I think it is hard to determine when a mom is taking advantage of maternity leave or that year of job security… and that may be another stereotype that is peretuated in the workplace. Parents, especially moms have very little "selfish" time. And the first year is so exhausting, even when your baby is not officially sick. I mean, can you take sick day when your baby has been up all night crying or up all night for days because s/he is teething? Do you just suck it up and go to work? Do you lie and say s/he is sick and stay at home and sleep. It is just hard to even imagine "taking advantage" of anything that first year–it is survival.

  11. Hi Annje,
    yes I definitely see your points and agree with many of them. I think, as many have pointed out, that it would be best if countries and governments would allow and promote equal parenting duties so that not all falls on the mothers … this is what eventually leads to blatant discrimination and as a career oriented woman (more so than maternal), that disheartens me for our gender.
    When I say that many women take advantage of the system it's because, I'm sorry to say, I've seen it done more so than not here in Chile. And my husband, who is a Gerente at his work, has also witnessed it. Unfortunately, as much as we may not agree or like to hear it, it's a fact and many women who do take advantage of the system, really ruin it for those who do not. These same women really ruin our legitimacy when it comes to pregnancy and our duties as parents.
    My point is that we aren't on this Earth to solely be mothers and I think we need to work together to make sure that we, as a gender, reserve our rights on all fronts, as mothers and career people. Of course we need the help of the government, the help of nanas and the help of society accepting that parenting comes from both ends – moms and dads.

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