COVID-19's Impact on Chile
COVID-19’s impact on Chile has been particularly negative. The pandemic triggered a recession that caused significant increases in unemployment and poverty. Unemployment reached 14%, the highest rate since the 2008 global financial crisis. Additionally, poverty levels have risen from 9.8% to 15.5% since the start of the pandemic, according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

As a result, the pandemic has hit lower and middle-class Chileans the hardest. The World Bank estimates that the country’s middle class decreased by 2 million people in the opening months of the pandemic alone. Despite these grim numbers, though, there are governments, NGOs and individuals doing meaningful work that gives cause for optimism. Here are five sources of assistance that have reduced COVID-19’s impact on Chile.

5 Sources of COVID-19 Aid to Chile

  1. Grassroots Aid. The first type of aid begins at the individual level. Many local communities have taken it upon themselves to create volunteer soup kitchens, which have proliferated in at-risk areas across the country. Chileans call these kitchens “ollas comunes,” or “collective pots” that help to combat food insecurity in light of the recent economic downturn. Most of the kitchens started out small, but many now serve hundreds of meals every day of the week. For many Chileans with little or no income during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the kitchens stood as a stable source of food that likely saved many lives and slowed the spread of malnutrition in rural communities.
  2. Chile Solidario. Translating to “Solidarity Chile,” Chile Solidario is a federal program established in 2002 that focuses on cash transfers and social assistance for low-income households. This program helped create Chile’s welfare infrastructure, which the federal government used to provide direct assistance throughout the pandemic. The transfers offer truly impactful aid by concentrating funds on Chile’s most vulnerable households.
  3. U.S. Aid. By September 2021, the U.S. had provided approximately $1.8 million in COVID-19 assistance for Chile. This assistance went toward the purchase of two field hospitals, eight ventilators and miscellaneous personal protection equipment (PPE). The U.S. dedicated further funds to local organizations, most of which provide basic health and hygiene products, including hand sanitizer, plastic gowns and personal hygiene kits. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research provided $500,000 to a team of Chilean scientists to research the spread of COVID-19 and study the evolution of new variants, which can help improve local responses to future outbreaks.
  4. Private Aid. Many U.S. companies have created their own private initiatives to provide assistance to Chileans. Most notably, the UnitedHealth Group donated $1 million to Desafío Levantemos Chile, a public foundation that has raised emergency funds for Chilean communities in need since 2010. The foundation has helped around 1.9 million people through more than 2,200 service projects across the country and has used this donation to purchase medical equipment for public hospitals and retirement homes. The Pfizer Foundation also donated $100,000 to the Chilean Red Cross to help those who the virus affects. Over the course of the pandemic, the Chilean Red Cross has donated 6,000 liters of disinfectant while leading multiple vaccination campaigns and delivering 37,500 PPE items to affected communities. Many U.S. brands stepped in to offer direct assistance to vulnerable populations. Walmart donated food directly to hungry Chileans, and other brands, including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Domino’s Pizza, have delivered free food to frontline health care workers.
  5. Nonprofit Aid. Two notable U.S. nonprofit organizations are doing meaningful work in the region. By September 2021, Project HOPE had sent more than $140,000 worth of medical supplies to Chile, which included blood pressure monitors, face shields, disposable gloves and KN95 masks. Another U.S. nonprofit called World Hope International made a similar donation of medical supplies, which they delivered directly to first responders in Chile. The U.S. Air Force helped transport both donations and has cooperated with the Chilean Air Force throughout the pandemic to facilitate the transfer of aid into the country.

Looking Ahead

COVID-19’s impact on Chile is certainly difficult for many Chileans, however, community service, foreign aid and nonprofit donations stand as major sources of hope throughout the pandemic. Due to these efforts, Chile is on its way to recovery. The OECD Economic Survey concluded that the national economy will resume gradual growth over the next two years with output reaching pre-pandemic levels by late 2022.

– Jack Leist
Photo: Flickr

Smart Cities in Latin America
According to TWI, “a smart city uses information and communication technology (ICT) to improve operational efficiency, share information with the public and provide a better quality of government service and citizen welfare.” The primary purpose of a smart city is to improve the lives of its citizens by using innovative technology “to optimize city functions and promote economic growth.” According to the Inter-American Development Bank, “a Smart City is one that places people at the center of development,” highlighting the value of smart cities in addressing issues that impact a city’s most marginalized population. In particular, smart cities in Latin America have the potential to lift the region out of poverty.

Addressing Poverty with Information and Communication Technology

In Latin America, smart cities are gaining more traction as nations look for innovative ways to address poverty and improve the lives of their citizens. Across the region, developing nations are embracing information and communication technology to address environmental concerns, improve energy efficiency and provide people with essential resources such as running water.

Investment in smart city infrastructure allows for the opportunity “to build more reliable power grids or expand the Internet” to stimulate economic growth in low-income communities. In addition, technological advancements in public transportation have the potential to create an equitable and accessible city, providing people on the periphery the opportunity to access urban centers unlike ever before. More than half of the world’s population live in cities with a projected increase to 66% by 2050. As rural communities continue to seek economic opportunities in the urban landscape, it is more important than ever for cities to implement the people-centered model of smart cities.

4 Smart Cities in Latin America

  1. Santiago, Chile: According to IESE Business School, the Chilean city of Santiago “is the smartest city in Latin America,” with initiatives in “mobility, environmental control and citizen safety.” To prevent water wastage, the city has developed a sensor data collecting method in which parks and other public green spaces undergo irrigation based on the amount of moisture necessary. The city has also implemented an advanced electric transit system.
  2. La Paz, Bolivia: This Bolivian city overcame its geographic challenges by creating an extensive cable car system to serve the population living in the steep Andean hills rising 500 meters above the city center. The cable car system has now become the main mode of public transportation in the city, allowing residents on the outskirts access to the main areas of commerce and employment.
  3. Guadalajara, Mexico: Guadalajara is the first Mexican city to receive designation as a smart city. Through the city’s Digital Creative City (DCC) initiative, Guadalajara is revitalizing its city center by emphasizing historical and cultural preservation while relying on technology to improve the city’s infrastructure and accommodate its population growth. The city is also relying on various technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and a smart grid, to provide its citizens with clean water, efficient transportation and affordable electricity. The city relies on a participatory model to engage residents in the city planning process.
  4. Montería, Colombia: Montería is one of the first Colombian cities to establish a sustainable infrastructure plan aimed at tackling extreme weather patterns and emissions. It intends to reduce emissions by declaring city-wide car-free days and improving public mobility. The city is also home to an innovation lab, which focuses on developing digital technologies and training individuals to work with these technologies. Montería is also tackling public health issues through its e-health initiatives and is installing solar panels in its public schools.

Rising Smart Cities in Latin America Alleviate Poverty

Cities throughout Latin America are alleviating poverty by integrating smart technology into their frameworks. Urban areas that focus on creating smart and connected systems of living offer numerous benefits for their people, including improving the quality of life and ensuring the sustainable application of resources. With an urbanization rate of 80% in 2017, Latin America stands as the world’s most urbanized region, which means there is ample opportunity for smart city implementation.

Jennifer Hendricks
Photo: Flickr

New Chilean Constitution to Reduce Social InequalityThe 2019 sweeping protests in Chile may be leading to radical change in that country by 2022. The protests, which originated in Santiago and spread throughout the country, sought to end the vast social inequality throughout Chile. This led to the government’s October 2020 decision for a referendum to draft a new Chilean constitution. The old constitution had been in place since the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. According to protestors, that constitution gave far too many privileges to Chile’s private sector.

Chilean Constitutional Convention

The referendum saw overwhelming support for the new constitution with 78% of the country voting in favor. It also asked voters whom they wanted to write the constitution. Almost 80% voted to elect 100% of the delegates to draft the new Chilean constitution. This replaced the old system that appointed 50% of the delegates from Congress.

Overwhelmingly, the Chilean people elected independent and opposition candidates (48%) to write the new Chilean constitution. It is the first such convention in the world to stipulate parity between male and female members. It reserves 17 seats of the convention for members of indigenous groups, not even mentioned in the original Pinochet-era constitution.

Among these indigenous delegates is Elisa Loncon, a progressive academic. Delegates elected her as the leader of the constitutional convention. Her election signposts the strong possibility that the convention’s decisions, and thus the constitution, will be left-leaning. Born into poverty, Loncon has gained attention in academia with a Master’s degree and two PhDs.

Suggested Reforms of the New Constitution

Another woman elected to the convention is Carolina Vilches, a water rights activist. She believes that the privatization of water must end. The current constitution allows private companies to extract as much water from the land as they require. This creates desertification that makes agriculture difficult and forces many small farmers to emigrate to wetter land. Vilches’s presence in the constitutional convention suggests that private companies may lose their rights to do this.

Many commentators are also focusing on Chile’s unequal education system, which includes a large number of for-profit universities and their high costs for a bachelor’s degree. There are also severe and widespread teaching shortages. Expectations have determined that the constitutional convention will ban for-profit universities, which have been unpopular for years and only protected from the previous constitution banning them. Even so, a previous attempt to ban them in 2018 resulted in a narrow defeat with a six to four vote decision.

An Uncertain Future

The new Chilean constitution referendum will most certainly be contentious. According to a poll, half of the general population believes that there is a conflict between the rich and poor, but only a quarter of the economic elite hold the same views. If the private sector attempts to block certain reforms, many believe this will cause unrest similar to what occurred in 2019.

The convention’s outcome is uncertain as are the responses of the general population and the private sector. Regardless, the fact remains that Chile’s social inequality bears the strong possibility of radically reducing in the years to come with the new Chilean constitution.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Flickr

Chile’s electionOver the weekend of May 15-16, 2021, a very unique election took place in Chile. Chileans voted for mayors, governors and city councilors. The distinctive part of Chile’s election was the vote for 155 representatives who will make up the Constitutional Convention responsible for drafting the new constitution of Chile.

The Need for a New Constitution

Back in 1973, Augusto Pinochet came into power as an authoritarian military dictator. Pinochet drafted a constitution that was reflective of his rule. Since then, Chile has been making the transition to democracy through several presidential administrations, the current being that of President Sebastián Piñera. Pinochet’s 1980 constitution has been a point of contention because many Chileans perceive it as favoring corporations over citizens.

Additionally, the constitution does not even mention indigenous people who account for more than 1.5 million Chileans. Chileans generally want to move away from the old constitution, which symbolizes the move from a transitional period into a full embrace of democracy. A new constitution would allow this to happen. Chile’s election decides who participates in the drafting of this monumental document.

Protests in Chile

Public disapproval came to a head in October 2019 when massive protests swept the South American country. Major cities like Santiago, Valparaíso and Concepción experienced riots, looting and several casualties as a result. An increase in subway rates initially triggered the demonstrations. The riots continued over concerns of extreme economic inequality and poor public health and education systems. One of the demands of the protests was to rewrite the constitution. A new constitution was seen as a solution to address the root of all the issues.

In October 2020, Chile’s government held a referendum in response to the protests. The referendum asked Chileans if they would want a new constitution, and if so, Chileans were to specify the type of body they would task with drafting this new constitution. Chileans responded with a majority of more than 78% of the country voting in favor of a new constitution to be drafted by a group elected by popular vote.

The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention is the first in the world to have a gender parity requirement. Because of the election, 50% of legislative seats will belong to women. Another milestone is the inclusion of Chile’s indigenous people. Indigenous representatives will account for 17 of the 155 convention seats. Seven of these seats go to the Mapuche, the largest Indigenous community. In recent years, industrial deforestation has wiped out much of the Mapuche lands, greatly harming the community.

In addition, six out of the 155 representatives will come from the LGBTQ+ community. Although the nation is facing great troubles, the achievements of Chile’s election should not be overlooked. The built-in diversity and representation should be cause for global celebration. The majority of seats have gone to independent and opposition candidates. This goes against the right-leaning coalition that is currently in power under President Piñera. Since the “government-backed candidates” now take up only about a quarter of the seats, they are left unable to pass legislation or block dramatic changes.

The Goals of a New Constitution

One of the primary goals of the leftward shift is fighting poverty in Chile, but not in the traditional sense. In terms of GDP per capita, Chile is considered the wealthiest country in South America, but the wealth is distributed very unequally. Chilean’s want the country’s wealth to be distributed equally, which should be reflected in better housing, education and healthcare for all.

Whether through indigenous rights, equitable educational services or the taxation of the wealthy, the Constitutional Convention will figure out how to make Chile a more equitable place. A well-structured and democratic constitution has the potential to bring lasting change to the country and reduce extreme poverty, which is why Chile’s election is such a significant moment in the country’s history.

Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

Education in Chile
In 1990, Chile democratized after almost two decades under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. His imposition of neoliberalism in the early 1980s, characterized by individualization and competitiveness, dramatically changed education in Chile. Pinochet’s universal educational voucher system set into motion the privatization of education. Three types of schools served children: completely free public schools, fee-based subsidized private schools and non-subsidized private schools that family tuition entirely paid for. Within this system, a student’s socioeconomic status foretold their experiences and educational attainment.

Separate & Unequal

Proponents of privatization argue that giving parents the option to choose the best school for their child leads to competition for student enrollment and thus improved the quality of schools. This promised “choice,” however, was only available to those with the financial resources to afford higher quality, fee-based private schools for their children, leaving underfunded public schools as the only option for impoverished Chilean families.

Marie Gentile, a former teacher for English Opens Doors, a volunteer initiative that the Chilean Ministry of Education supports, told The Borgen Project that she had the opportunity to teach in both a public and a subsidized private school. Gentile reported that teaching in the public school system was “definitely a much different experience. I had a lot of really sweet, engaged kids, but there were also some extreme behavior issues that stemmed from toxic home situations.” She reported that “teaching in a public school was almost always people’s last choice. Once you started teaching in a public school, it was hard to “move up” to a private school, which paid more and had an “easier” student/family population.” Gentile’s experiences show the larger problem of education in Chile and the extreme discrepancy between socioeconomically segregated public and private schools.

The 2015 Program for International Students Assessment indicates that students from the highest quartile in economic status outscored their counterparts in the lowest quartile by about a fourth in science, reading and mathematics. Perpetuating the cyclic nature of poverty is the fact that 60% of students living in poverty, compared with 13% of those from the highest socioeconomic class, enroll in technical-professional programs with the aim of entering the workforce after high school. A student’s socioeconomic status is an accurate predictor of performance in school and postsecondary plans.

Corrective Legislation

Two years after massive student strikes in 2006, the Chilean government passed the Preferential School Subsidy Law (SEP) to “boost student achievement and reduce income-based gaps.” Under SEP, priority students or students from families in the bottom 40% of the income distribution, which would later increase to the bottom 50%, did not have to pay fees and private schools could not deny them due to academic grounds. The effect was that poor families had a wider scope of school choices. Moreover, schools received increased funding to participate in SEP.

To ensure accountability, schools participating in SEP have to administer national assessments. Schools labeled “insufficient” on national assessments for four consecutive years faced potential closure. The Ministry of Education in Chile uses the results of national assessments to “identify the deficits of each [insufficient] school and tailor specific programs that respond’ to those needs,” however, using school closure as a means to improve the system as a whole has undergone fierce debate.

Due to increased choice, funding, accountability and the partial desegregation of schools, the gap in academic performance between the highest and lowest socio-economic rungs of Chilean society narrowed between 2005 and 2012. In fact, the “size of the income-based test-score gap in [4th-grade] mathematics declined by at least one-third.”

Recent Initiatives and Legislation

To improve upon the SEP legislation, in 2016, the government of Michelle Bachelet passed the Inclusion Law. Markedly, this law increases the number of people receiving “priority student” qualification by 20%, does not require the devolvement of economic, social or academic background in the school admissions process for schools receiving government funding, and states that “by 2018, all schools that receive contributions from the state must be organized as non-profit entities.”

Another equalizing legislative measure is “Gratuidad,” a policy that passed in 2016 and makes college tuition-free in Chile for the lowest 60% of the income distribution. This policy has promising impacts on the number of students living in poverty who attend tertiary school. A report found that “15% of Chilean students in the program would have otherwise not sought a college education.” Gratuidad aims to address concerns raised over years of public protests, including that of high college tuition, student loan debt and the “gulf in quality between the institutions attended by the wealthiest and poorest students.”

Wish List

Student advocacy groups continue to fight for more equality in education. A recent priority for student protestors is the termination of the PSU, a prerequisite assessment for applying to college. Students argue that the assessment is biased and favors affluent students and data supports their messaging. In 2018, 30% of the public, 43.5% of subsidized private and 79% of fully private school students obtained the minimum score for college application. The PSU, they argue, is another system that disadvantages the disadvantaged.

Since the fall of Pinochet, governments have tried to mitigate the socioeconomic inequities augmented by the dictator’s education system. Inclusive legislation and a strong national student voice have driven Chile forward in its pursuit of equal education in Chile.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 vaccination in ChileThe campaign to administer the COVID-19 vaccination in Chile currently has one of the largest vaccination outreaches in the world. As of April 19, 2021, more than 40% of the Chilean population has received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nevertheless, the South American country has seen a concerning spike in cases amid the vaccine rollout. As of April 14, 2021, the number of total cases had increased to more than 9,000.

COVID-19 in Chile

In an April 2021 press release, Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Association stated “For most countries, vaccines are not going to stop this wave of the pandemic. There are simply not enough of them available to protect everyone in the countries at greatest risk.” In particular, Chileans in rural areas have disproportionately less access to the vaccine. To ensure inclusion, the Chilean government is prioritizing nationwide vaccination centers.

Access to Vaccines

The Chilean government has struggled to deescalate the risk of contagion and stabilize the country’s herd immunity. Overcoming COVID-19 requires all members of Chilean society to be accounted for. The government has made an effort to prioritize accessibility for all, especially rural populations. Chile has set up mobile vaccination centers in markets, universities, soccer stadiums and also established drive-through vaccination sites. The government has succeeded in creating more than 1,400 vaccination centers around the country to ensure that everybody has equitable access regardless of location.

A Surge in Cases

The government moved with false confidence as it created a permit system in January 2021, enabling Chileans to travel internationally during the summer vacation period. Similarly, businesses such as gyms, malls and restaurants began to operate at full capacity. These relaxed measures hindered the positive effects of the countries vaccination efforts. Without any contact tracing in place, the virus rapidly spread. “The situation we’re in is one we saw coming,” says Dr. Claudia Cortés, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Chile. “More than four million people traveled around the country. That led the virus, which had been largely contained to some major areas, to spread across the country.”

Virus Mutations and Vaccine Efficacy

The health science community believes that surges in cases are tied to the emergence of more intense strains of the virus, such as the P1 variant. Furthermore, doubts have arisen about the true efficacy of the Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine that was used for the COVID-19 vaccination in Chile. Chile published its own research on the efficacy of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine. The data indicates that a single shot is only 16% effective in preventing infection and 36% effective at preventing hospitalization.

As a result, the Chilean government is prioritizing efforts for citizens to receive a second dose. Furthermore, Chile has secured four million doses of the more effective AstraZeneca vaccine, which starts arriving in May 2021. President Sebastian Piñera has also purchased 1.8 million vials of the single-dose vaccine, CanSino. Because the CanSino vaccine requires only one injection, health officials believe the vaccine rollout will be an easier process.

In light of a COVID-19 surge, Chile is taking urgent action to slow the rate of infection and achieve herd immunity. With government commitment and global support for vaccine equity, Chile can successfully manage the spread of COVID-19 within its border.

Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Makes Seawater Safe
A finalist in the 2021 Lexus Design Award, Henry Glogau created a skylight device that has the potential to solve water shortages worldwide. Glogau has utilized natural resources like sunlight and seawater. With these resources, he created an indoor desalination system that makes seawater safe to drink. The system has already provided drinking water and indoor lighting to homes in Antofagasta, Chile.

How the Skylight Makes Seawater Safe to Drink

Someone has to hand-pump the salty seawater into the skylight. From there, the solar panel absorbs sunlight, which heats the water to the point of evaporation. The evaporation turns into condensation. The condensation drips down to the bottom half of the skylight. There, a spout controls the release of the desalinated drinking water. The skylight can produce up to 440 milliliters of water a day. It takes the salinity of the seawater from 36,000 ppm, past the minimum drinkability at 500 ppm to a miraculous 40 ppm. The skylight leaves behind salty brine in the water. The device, however, lets nothing go to waste. Salt batteries generate a diffused light from the leftover brine.

Free Lighting

Not only does the device provide drinking water, but it also provides free natural lighting to many lacking it. Power lines generate life for many families in settlement homes in Chile. The boarded windows of the homes block out natural light, unfortunately. The boarded windows increase privacy and security. The natural light from the skylight, along with the salt battery-powered light strip for the nighttime, is a great, cheap alternative that allows families to not have to live in the dark. The skylight creates soothing light patterns on the floors and walls during the evaporation to condensation processes.

Implementing the Skylight in Antofagasta

Antofagasta, a city in Chile, utilizes the skylight. Antofagasta is a very dry, coastal region where there is a limited flow of surface water. A water sustainability study in 2016 found Antofagasta to have the most severe water scarcity index of five main Chilean regions. This region possessed a value of 24.4.  This value excludes the ecological flow requirements. The value rises to 51.6 with the inclusion of the flow requirements. The mean annual runoff for this region is 930 liters per second. Demand for this region is 22,704 liters per second.

In the Antofagasta area, there are approximately 110,000 families without access to clean water. The skylight innovation makes seawater safe, providing clean water to many families. Many people in Chile live in compartimentos. Chile categorizes compartimentos as eight or more houses lacking legal property and having access to one basic service. For many people, the service they lack is water. The privatization of resources such as water makes clean water difficult to afford. This is why the work Glogau has done is so important for these communities. To increase the impact of this system, the people of Antofagasta are participating in local workshops on desalination that uses renewable resources. Hopefully, more communities around the world suffering from lack of access to clean drinking water will utilize this system.

– Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

Inequality in ChileChile is one of the fastest-growing and most prosperous countries in South America. Chile successfully reduced its poverty rate from 7.4% of people living on less than $3.20 a day in 2006 to 1.8% in 2017. Some of Chile’s development growth comes from its free-market economy, which has also been a source of protests due to the inequality that has followed. Chile’s economic growth and poverty reduction made it an “economic miracle.” However, the success of economic growth covered up the growing inequalities in Chile. The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Paul Kubik from DePaul University in Chicago for insight on the growing threat of inequality in Chile.

Problems in Chile’s Growing Economy

The Chilean transition to a free-market economy raised the quality of life for many of its citizens and increased foreign investment into the nation’s businesses but made life harder for Chileans living under the poverty line. Tackling poverty and inequality in a country usually occurs in tandem but the Chilean government has historically focused on reducing poverty while overlooking the inequality issues that come soon after.

In 2019, the Chilean government raised subway fare prices that sparked protests. Why would protests occur due to a small change in subway fare when Chile has a high GDP of $282.3 million? Dr. Kubik states that a high GDP is not the sole indicator of economic development. Long-running inequality in Chile has influenced the rise in protests. Dr. Kubik states further that “It is important to recognize as well that protests over inequality are about more than the economics of the day. Inequality has social dimensions as well, that when considered, help to explain events.”

Gender Inequality in Chile

Besides income inequality, Chile is experiencing gender and quality of life discrepancies based on the types of jobs available to different genders working in the lower class. It is no secret that quality of life diminishes with poverty but women in Chile are experiencing gender-based violence with severe income disparities as they hold one of the lowest unemployment rates in South America.

Legislation exists that prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace but there are no criminal implications for perpetrators and no remedies for victims. Furthermore, the legal system does not require equal pay for equal work. It also does not forbid gender discrimination in credit access. Another challenge Chilean women fact is that the default marital property regime automatically makes the husband the head of the house, giving him control of the marital property.

It is possible to have rising rates of inequality in Chile with decreasing poverty rates because experts measure these two rates differently. They measure inequality by the extent to which an economy deviates from an equal distribution of resources, and they look at a variety of marginalized social groups.

Combating Inequality in Santiago and Beyond

Inequality in Chile has reached such an extent that the city of Santiago possesses “high and low class” parks. Public spaces that people can only access due to their income is directly discriminatory against impoverished Chileans.

“Santiago-style inequality” makes poverty harder to track in official statistics. Families that are living above the poverty line are doing so with access to informal credit, which only pushes them further into poverty since they pay 20% more for basic goods. One can blatantly see inequality in the fact that Santiago’s pharmacy chains do not want to operate in impoverished areas of the city. A communist local politician resorted to setting up a “state-run people’s pharmacy” to fill the void.

Some saw the expansion of education as the key to increasing economic growth and opportunity in Chile. As a result, Santiago has multiple universities. However, the existence of stable educational institutions does not mean they are accessible, making it hard to produce the wanted economic expansion. The Chilean government commits just 0.5% of GDP to higher education. Furthermore, “the average university course costs 41% of the average income.” Some university graduates regret the pursuit of tertiary education stating that it did nothing for their job prospects and only increased their debt.

To address this educational barrier, Chile has made some colleges tuition-free for households with the lowest 60% of income. This addresses the issue of high tuition costs that prevent students from enrolling but the secondary costs of education, such as textbooks, transportation and food, do not receive coverage. This still presents a barrier to inclusion and can make completion difficult for many students.

An Inclusive Approach to Development

Dr. Kubik states that development is a complex process. It requires a “coordinated approach that involves political, social and economic dimensions to be successful in the long run.” By focusing less on inequality and more on raising Chile’s GDP, the Chilean government risks different policy conclusions, which can result in clashes between the government and its citizens.

Social and political dimensions include steps the government took to remove all barriers to the completion of education, enforcing inclusionary governmental policies, and in Chile’s case, allowing lower class citizens the same privileges as upper-class citizens. Progress in gender inclusion, education improvements, social acceptance and more, can reduce inequality in Chile.

Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

tapestry weavingIn Chile, from 1973 to 1990, systemic human rights violations swept the nation under General Augusto Pinochet, including acts of physical and sexual abuse as well as psychological damage. Consequently, many progressive young students and men “disappeared” at the hands of the regime because of their ideology. While a grim history, hope can be found in the subsequent actions of women. The Arpilleristas were able to overcome such hardships through tapestry weaving.

Chilean Women Unite

Mothers united and responded to the oppression and torture that was inflicted upon their loved ones with methods of protests that defied masculine logic, such as publicly banging pots and pans, singing and dancing to songs with political messages and weaving tapestries. These actions challenged the societal norms in Chile, which were embedded with machismo ideology and male superiority.

Tapestry Weaving as a Form of Resistance

The weaving of tapestries was an especially impactful form of resistance that was founded in 1975. Once unified, the Arpilleristas began to construct patchwork tapestries, or arpilleras, that depicted scenes of hardship and violence that people experienced under Pinochet.

The hand-made arpilleras portrayed shantytown community kitchens, which were often families’ only means of feeding themselves, women’s laundry and bread-baking subsistence-level cooperatives, arrests and soldiers beating protesters. It was through the crafting of the arpilleras that women were granted a voice to tell their individual and collective stories.

Economic Empowerment

However, the crafting of the arpilleras was more than just an act of protest and storytelling, it was also a way to generate income. The women weaving arpilleras was a form of advocacy and also a livelihood. The Arpilleristas transformed conventional visions of secluded motherhood and domesticity, all the while eliminating submissive and passive associations regarding women.

With the return of democracy in the 1990s, the oppression f the Pinochet dictatorship has since been eradicated. All individuals are able to enjoy democracy. The women, “do so now, however, with a different consciousness. Women have not forgotten the empowerment they gained when they learned they could change things by taking to the streets and protesting the dictatorship.

It is this confidence that continues to inspire women as they face problems in Chile, however, they do so in a different manner now.

A Return to Democracy

It was only through the opression of the dictatorship and conservative gender ideology promoted by the dictatorship, Chilean women mobilized as feminists to demand a return to democracy. Though they were not self-identified feminists, the collective act of women uniting in order to defeat oppression has altered and expanded women’s rights in Chile today and recharacterized the very definition of motherhood.

The Arpilleristas’ tapestry weaving has served as an inspiring example of fighting against injustice while empowering women through economic development. By employing an accepted tradition of weaving, the women were able to capitalize and in many cases negate extreme poverty and additional hardships.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Chile
Chile is the most prosperous country in Latin America. However, large wage gaps and wealth distribution continue to be at the forefront of the nation’s problems. As a result, high rates of poverty prevail; approximately 14% of the population live below the poverty line. Moreover, there is a high prevalence of child poverty in Chile

Children, one of the country’s most vulnerable populations, are especially susceptible to the consequences that poverty causes. Those who come from poorer families are more likely to face spillover effects with regard to their education and overall health and well-being. Additionally, indigenous and migrant children face an added level of discrimination. Because of these issues, child poverty in Chile is a growing concern.


In Chile, school is mandatory for all children between the ages of 7 and 16, but there are an estimated 75,000 children who do not attend school. Oftentimes, children may abandon school in order to work and provide for their families.

The inequality with regard to access to education is even more evident in the higher education system, where enrollment costs are among the highest in the world. According to a survey released in 2017, 58% of Chileans believe that a lack of education leads to a lack of opportunities. This further exacerbates overall poverty in Chile.

The good news is that UNICEF is working with the government in order to reduce child poverty in Chile by establishing laws and programs that provide additional protection for children’s right to education. For example, UNICEF helped develop the d the Inclusive Education Act and the New Public Education Act. UNICEF has also supported the Ministry of Education in developing strategies to train teachers. This emerged through a partnership with UNICEF and Fútbol Más, an organization that works to ensure the well-being of Chilean children.


Related to the lack of access to education, 6.6% of children between the ages of 5-17 are participants in child labor. Additionally, there are gender discrepancies within child labor; 9.5% of boys and 3.9% of girls engage in the workforce. Child labor is often a result of high unemployment rates; families expect and depend on their children to accrue revenue. The most common industries of work are commerce, hotel, restaurants, social services, agriculture and construction.

Moreover, the conditions of the workplace can have a negative impact on children’s overall health; approximately 70.6% of working children work at jobs that are dangerous. Those who work in agriculture are especially susceptible to performing unsafe tasks. The lack of public data available, including how much money goes toward inspection and the number of labor inspectors, further worsens how the country manages child labor.

Still, progress has occurred. In 2017, Chile developed a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, updating its list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children, as well as its inspector laws. The government also revised the Anti-Trafficking National Action Plan in 2019. It continues to support programs that address child labor and sexual exploitation.


Not only does violence occur within the workplace, but also within the confines of the home. Children who become victims of physical, sexual and psychological domestic violence will frequently turn to the streets in order to escape their alarming home environments. Many end up in cities, surviving day to day and not knowing their next source of water or food. These “street children” lack proper education, as well as many other resources necessary for a developing child.

About 547 adolescents and children lived on the streets during 2018. Fundación Don Bosco is an organization that gives opportunities to both children and adults who live in the street. The organization offers food, housing, psychological and psychiatric assistance to children and their parents, with the hope of rebuilding familial ties and reintegration. Fundación Don Bosco followed and offered professional support to 191 street children and their families in 2019.

Native and Migrant Children

In addition to street children, native and migrant children are two additional marginalized groups that are especially susceptible to child poverty in Chile. Indigenous people comprise 5% of Chile’s population, primarily the Aymara and the Mapuche. These children do not have the same access to education and healthy lifestyles as other children, due to their family’s lower economic status and discrimination. Many Chileans view them as inferior due to their indigenous status.

As a result, indigenous children are likely to engage in labor work, from the fields to the factories, in order to help support their families. Migrant children also face discrimination, especially with regard to their education. As a result, in 2017, the Ministry of Education evaluated migrant children in the education system in order to better assess and understand their role within the system, as well as to help identify barriers related to overall school inclusion.

Looking Ahead

Despite the evident fact that there is child poverty in Chile, economic and social progress has occurred. In 2019, the National Prosecutor’s Office signed an agreement to help improve coordination in providing services to children in need, as well as ensure that both Chile’s standards and reality with regard to children’s rights and development align with those of international expectations and treaties.

Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr