From poets, to senators, to educators, to a female conquistador, Chilean women are a powerhouse. In a society that is known for its overt “machismo” overtones and more conservative views towards women, Chilean women prove again and again that they are strong, intelligent, and determined people who are capable of incredible feats of bravery and artistry, who will stand up for what they want and what they believe in, and that their goals and dreams are changing the traditional gender roles that have long defined Chilean society.
So today, in honor of International Women’s Day, we’re honoring seven of Chile’s most inspirational and influential women, as well as giving a shout-out to the hardworking women at Cascada Expediciones, EcoCamp Patagonia, and all over the world: happy International Women’s Day/Feliz Dia de la Mujer!
One of the most influential people behind the colonization of Chile was the independent and fearless Ines Suarez, a young woman from Spain who accompanied the first group of conquistadors to travel to Chile. Arriving in the New World with Captain Pedro de Valdivia, who was also her lover and whom she supported endlessly during illness and hardship, she helped found and settle the capital city of Santiago, and was instrumental in helping protect it against attacks by the native Mapuches. She is also the subject of the popular novel “Ines of my Soul” by Isabel Allende, where an elderly Suarez recounts her life’s story.
The founder and trailblazer of the “Nueva Cancion Chilena” movement in the 1960s, Violeta Parra was and is one of Chile’s most beloved singer-songwriters, crafting powerful hymns about life, love, and her home country. She is regarded as the “Mother of Latin American Folk” thanks to her hard work to revitalize traditional Chilean music and folk art, a sentiment and movement that spread beyond Chile and encouraged other South American countries to go back to their folk art roots. Her most famous song is “Gracias de la Vida” (Thanks to Life), which is still widely covered and performed by other artists.
Latin America’s first winner (male or female) of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriel Mistral is most well-known for her poetry, which is universally loved among Chileans. Her poems, which ruminated on themes such as death, love, patriotism, and loss, are notable for the rich language and powerful emotions they evoke. They have never been officially translated into English, which many support since they feel that the feelings and emotions she invoked would be lost when translated into another language. Like fellow poet Pablo Neruda, she also worked as a diplomat, but she was a dedicated educator as well, campaigning for liberalizing education and giving all social classes equal access to good schools. She also served as director of one of Santiago’s most prestigious girls schools, a coveted and influential post.
Isabel Allende is one of modern Chile’s greatest literary exports, a diverse and prolific writer whose flowing and vibrant prose is instantly recognizable. Mostly famous for her fiction novels such as “The House of the Spirits”, “Zorro”, and “City of the Beasts,” she also has written nonfiction work about her life growing up in Chile, her Chilean family, leaving her country during the dictatorship, and Chilean culture. She currently lives in California, and she has been awarded the National Prize for Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Michelle Bachelet was and is Chile’s first female president, first serving from 2006 to 2010, and winning the presidency again in 2013 for her current term, which will end in 2017. She was also the executive director of UN Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women), an organization within the UN working toward international empowerment for women, ending violence against women, encouraging women to get involved in politics and leadership roles, among other goals. Her presidencies have been marred by some scandals, which have affected her approval rating among Chileans, but agree or disagree with her politics, her involvement in national and international politics is a huge step forward for women everywhere.
Maria de la Cruz
Maria de la Cruz was the first woman ever elected to the Chilean Senate, and was an outspoken champion of women’s right as one of Chile’s most prominent suffragettes, as well as a political commentator and journalist. Using her radio program “Maria de la Cruz Habla” (Maria Cruz Speaks Out), de la Cruz was vocal about women’s struggle to win the right to vote, and highlighted the need for women to be more involved in national politics. In 1946, she founded the Feminine Party of Chile, which quickly became popular among working and middle class women, and after one failed attempt, won a Senate seat in 1953. She was removed from Congress not long after, however, due to allegations that she was involved in watch-smuggling from Argentina – allegations that are now widely considered to have been fabricated to remove her from the government. Nonetheless, she continued to speak out on her radio show until late in life.
Gladys Marin was a powerful force behind the opposition movement against dictator Augusto Pinochet, being the first person to file a lawsuit against him for his human rights violations. She served as Secretary-General and then president of the Communist Party of Chile, and, after leaving the country for a short time during the dictatorship for her own safety, she returned to help the underground movement toward restoring democracy. She filed her lawsuit against Pinochet in 1998.
Do you know a remarkable Chilean woman (or any woman!) who has inspired you? Let us know in the comments!