Post-earthquake Reconstruction: Another Pending Matter For The Chilean Government
FRIDAY FILE: About 20 months ago, Chile was shaken by its worst catastrophe in 50 years. For the majority of those affected, reconstruction has been a very slow process and is another unresolved problem that the Sebastian Piñera government has.
AWID spoke to Natalia Flores González, Executive Secretary at Observatorio Género y Equidad (El Observatorio)(Gender and Equity Watch) about how the disaster affected women’s rights and their role in the response and reconstruction processes.
By Gabriela De Cicco
The current Chilean context is one of increasing discontent over the absence of State policies for education, health, employment and social security, which have resulted in demonstrations across the country. While the origins were in sectoral demands they have become a broad national movement that is challenging the economic and social model that gave rise to the Chilean ‘miracle.’ Protests by mortgage debtors and families affected by the 2010 earthquake, who are still living in tents, are one of many of the actions taking place in the country which include copper workers opposed to privatization of mineral resources and high school and University students demanding quality public education[i].
AWID: What was the damage caused by last year’s earthquake? Which areas and persons were most affected?
Natalia Flores González (NFG): In the early morning of Saturday, February 27, 2010, an earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale, off the coast of the Bio-Bio region, shook the country unleashing the worst catastrophe in the last 50 years. The earthquake triggered a massive tidal wave, which devastated several coastal towns in south-central Chile flooding fishermen’s coves and many villages and damaging the port at Talcahuano. Millions of people were affected in seven of the 15 regions in the country from Valparaíso in the north to Araucanía in the south. Hundreds died or disappeared and more than 500,000 houses were severely damaged. There were more than 200 aftershocks, some of them measuring over 6.0 on the Richter scale.
AWID: How were people’s rights, and specifically women’s rights, affected by the earthquake and responses to the disaster?
NFG: The human rights of both women and men were violated by the emergency response measures. The affected territories were militarized; if you talk to the inhabitants of the Concepción or Maule regions, they still remember the military patrolling with rifles on their shoulders, seeking to “restore public order.” There were illegal arrests and abuses committed by the authorities as well as delays in delivering food and water. If we look specifically at women, reproductive health care almost disappeared; government authorities were not concerned about overcrowding or resettling women who were victims of domestic violence.
AWID: What efforts have been made by the State and civil society for reconstructing the affected areas following the 2010 earthquake?
NFG: The State-led reconstruction process is still ongoing. More than a year and a half since the earthquake, Chile still does not have a “Special Reconstruction Bill”. Allocated budgets have been insufficient and authorities appointed for these tasks have not stayed in their posts beyond three or four months. Moreover, the immediate emergency response was handed over to big private companies selling construction materials, but they have not been able to meet the demands.
This entire process was run on the basis of guidelines provided directly from the National Government without space for local debate in the affected regions, without any participation from citizens and without taking into account local needs such as recovering the cities’ structural and cultural heritage.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that the earthquake and tidal wave gave rise to community organizing in the affected locations in the form of local councils, citizens’ plans for social and territorial reconstruction, regional assemblies etc, none of these were taken into account by President Piñera’s government which failed to use the opportunity to engage in dialogue with them.
AWID: How successful have the efforts been in addressing women’s specific needs?
NFG: A gender perspective has been completely absent from both the emergency response policies as well as the inadequate measures taken for reconstruction. The needs of Chilean women were overlooked in the aftermath of the disaster as well as in organizing the reconstruction. President Piñera’s government actions, and even those promoted by the SERNAM (National Service for Women) have not responded to those specific needs at all.
Under the call “Mujer, levantemos Chile” (“Woman, Let’s Get Chile Back On Its Feet”), the government offered a series of measures, mostly integrated into its overall action plan. A series of talks at community centres were organized with psychologist Pilar Sordo and 100 copies of a video chat with Sordo on emotional support were distributed.
But no information has been provided on the resources and subsidies delivered to women, or on the impact of the actions taken for women. And the findings of an evaluation conducted by organizational members of the Maule Women’s Network are worrying: no sanitary pads were distributed, there was no access to contraceptives - which resulted in unwanted pregnancies, and no medical support was provided to the population for handling their distress, fear and anxiety. The inadequacy of public care networks was especially visible in the area of health.
AWID: What role have women played in this process?
NFG: Chilean women were the first to respond to the emergency and the reconstruction . This has been illustrated by several testimonies in the media. They moved quickly to organize themselves in the very first hours and days of the disaster, resulting in dozens of leaders emerging in different locations. Several women’s NGOs immediately developed solidarity campaigns, collecting basic items for women and supporting women’s organizations and leaders in the areas affected by the earthquake. This is proof of the social capital available in the villages.
In March 2010, El Observatorio created a blog called “Gender and Reconstruction” to share news exclusively related to this process and create a means for communication among those affected by the tragedy and those looking for ways to help. Also, through its electronic Bulletin, it gave voice to women leaders and experts to express their views, needs and analysis. The same was done through its weekly program in Radio Tierra, “Objetivo Zoom” (Zoom Goal) in which leaders and experts were interviewed and assessed the situation of women after the earthquake and in the reconstruction process.
In June 2010 El Observatorio, together with Fundación Dialoga, SUR Corporación de Estudios Sociales y Educación (Social Studies and Education Corporation) and with the support of Universidad Academia de Humanismo Cristiano (Christian Humanism Academy University), organized a seminar on “Women and Earthquakes: Building cities/citizenships.” It brought together more than 100 leaders of women’s organizations in the areas affected by the earthquake, who discussed their situation and took part in different workshops, with the support of Analucy Bengoechea, a Honduran expert on community resilience (post Hurricane Mitch).
Currently El Observatorio are developing an initiative with organizations from five of the regions affected by the earthquake called “Integrating Gender in Reconstruction: Women leaders and new ICTs for exercising citizenship”.
As a member of Red Mujer y Hábitat de América Latina (Latin American Women and Habitat Network), SUR Corporación worked with women’s organizations in the Maule and Bio- Bio regions within the framework of UNIFEM’s Regional Program “Cities Free from Violence against Women, Safe Sities for All.” Women leaders’ skills and roles were strengthened and they are currently participating in citizens’ initiatives raising their own gender claims.
Various organisations[ii] have developed actions aimed at strengthening women’s citizenship and responding to their specific needs. These actions include individual resilience and gender sensitive emergency response workshops, collecting supplies and gathering support for rebuilding the offices of women’s organisations.
Fondo Alquimia, together with Casa de los Colores and Centro Soial Quidell and with the support of Urgent Action Fund-Latin America, led a women’s human rights watchdog project in the Maule and Bio-Bio region, to ensure that women’s sexual and reproductive rights were being respected and defended, and also to expose violations in the post-disaster context.
AWID: What problems are still pending after the 2010 earthquake?
NFG: There are two main pending problems. Firstly, “reconstruction” is still lagging far behind. Buildings that are uninhabitable have not yet been demolished and the previous residents have not been resettled into quality houses. The hut camps have already faced two winters and the housing subsidies have not yet been allocated.
The second serious problem is the lack of consultation and citizen participation in the “reconstruction” process. Local organizations have not been heard or taken into account by local, regional or national authorities, and they have been strongly repressed whenever there have been demonstrations.
AWID: Are you aware of work being done in the area of disaster management, from a women’s rights perspective?
NFG: Natural disaster prevention models with a gender perspective have not been produced by the government before, during or after the earthquake, and if we look at the political and ideological guidelines of President Piñera’s government we see that gender policies have been reduced and replaced by perspectives focused on women’s traditional roles in the family.
It will be important for women’s organizations to reflect on their experiences in responding to the earthquake and tidal wave emergencies and to systematize and consolidate the lessons learned from the disaster.
[ii] Corporación DOMOS, Fondo Alquimia (Alquimia Fund), Asociación de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas (ANAMURI, Rural and Indigenous Women’s Association), and Fundación Dialoga