When you step off a plane

As previously alluded to in an earlier blog post, each group on the Chile J-Term trip is tasked with creating a final project that summarizes the knowledge we have learned on this trip. Because the class is titled “Families, Lifestyles, and Annuity Tables” it is each group’s job to focus on one item and relate it back to these three items mentioned in the class title. For our project, we have chosen to focus on the equalities and inequalities that we observe in the social structure of Chile. There are many types of equalities and inequalities that exist throughout the world, so to narrow our topic we have chosen to mainly focus on gender, class, and LGBTQ+ equalities and inequalities. To study these areas in Chile, we have spent time taking careful notes in our meetings with a variety of businesses, exploring and observing the city of Santiago on our own time, and researching online for answers to additional questions we have.  In the short week that we’ve been studying this topic in Santiago, we have already made a number of noteworthy observations.

When we stepped off the plane in Chile, our class of ten students and two faculty members attended an informational session to introduce us to the Chilean culture. Hosted by our trip advisers from ISA, Roxana and Tamara, we learned a number of things about the way gender is viewed in Chile. Our class was warned that Chile is a country with a culture that is historically male-dominated. We were told that work and family roles fit into the traditional viewpoint that once dominated our world (and still sometimes does) – the man works, while the woman takes care of the family. From this traditional view of the home, Chile developed a number of normal qualities to look for in men and women. Specifically, women are expected to be ladylike, conservative in the way they dress, and should not have the opportunity to have abortions when they become pregnant. Meanwhile, men should be breadwinners and should be berated if they make less money than a woman in their household.

These types of inequalities in gender have shaped the direction of Chile, but we have noticed a shift away from the traditional gender norms while we have been here. Our group has observed a number of women in business and advertising jobs during our visits at Channel 13, Principal Financial Group, and Extend. While we noted a large number of women working outside of the household, we cannot truly tell if the career opportunities are equal at this point. For example, Chile has a female president, but only eight of twenty-three ministry positions are held by women, and even smaller representations are found in the government’s undersecretaries and regional authorities. Furthermore, we have observed an equal number of male and female students at the Universidad de los Andes, but we cannot conclude that both genders are studying for comparable careers. While we cannot definitively come to any conclusions about the career opportunities for men and women, it seems as if what we have observed can be marked as progress towards gender equality in the workforce.

The biggest gap in equality that we have noticed is derived from income, separating high and low class citizens. Almost each business we have visited has provided our group with a brief history of Chile’s economic development. From these lectures, we have learned that huge economic inequalities have existed in Chile since the beginning of the country’s history. Historically, citizens were separated into two major groups of people: peasants that worked the land, and owners who benefitted from all of the profits those workers provided. Today, five families still own the majority of wealth and power in Chile.  Two power players always attributed with high economic power are the Luksic and Larrain families. While these notorious families enjoy incredible economic opportunities, the rest of the country still fights to make and maintain a living. For example, Santiago’s financial district cannot entirely represent the entire country’s economic success. Traveling just past the bustling streets of the city’s core, a visitor will find neighborhoods that are home to many Chilean’s struggling to get by each day. Living in houses made of tin roofs, next to schools that need structural attention and parks that need grass, these Chilean citizens do not experience a thriving economic position. We observed subsidized housing and jerry-rigged streetlamps – the people in these communities cannot wait the long periods of time for the government to provide them with basic infrastructure. This does not mark the end of signs we have seen in the fight for economic equality.

Citizens living in Santiago are frequently protesting the wages they earn for a variety of jobs. On one of the first days we spent touring the city, we had to cancel our time at the art museum; it was closed because its employees were on strike to demand higher wages. A second example was when Roxana and Tamara explained to us that universities have been shut down due to protests. When classes are canceled for long periods of time, students and faculty cannot continue education and must suspend all working. Instead of being released at the normal time in January for summer break, students finish their academic year late in March and must immediately start the next year of school. Finally, we have personally viewed protesters walking through the streets of Chile demanding more money for the work they do. Protesters parade in matching colors, chanting a consistent message and using drums to get the attention of Santiago.


“DIBAM (Direccion de Bibliotecas, Achivos, y Museos)  on strike” – Photo by Claire

To supplement what we have observed and already learned, we visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. This museum is dedicated to providing information and insight to the human rights violations committed in Chile under the military dictatorship beginning in 1973. Prior to 1973, Chile was controlled by socialist president Salvador Allende. On September 11, 1973 Augusto Pinochet used the support he had with the Chilean military to throw a coup on La Moneda (the President’s Palace). Bombing the palace, the Chilean military forced Allende out of his presidency and Pinochet immediately took place as the leader of a military dictatorship in Chile that lasted until 1990. While an exact number of the people that suffered human rights violations in Chile during Pinochet’s rule has not been obtained, the museum estimates that 4,000 people died over the 17 year period.


This wall contains a list of a rights that all humans deserve around the world. – Photo by Tommy

Citizens of Chile were subject to a number of human rights violations. Chilean citizens caught trying to flee the country or protect their families were detained by the dictatorship and tortured. Some of the torture methods included beating, using electric shock, and killing citizens. During Pinochet’s rule, Chilean citizens lived in fear of death, and were forced to compromise their way of life to protect their lives. The government led by Pinochet censored all media publications, distributed propaganda, and burned the books and art of anything that could defy the regime. Even more, students at universities were restricted from studying subjects like political science, law, social sciences, and art. Due to these historic events, Chile’s government and culture were shaped forever.


Our blog team stands in front of a museum exhibit featuring art by young people (ages 18 to 25). Each piece depicts human rights violations committed from 1973 to 1990. – Photo by UG

Specifically, a majority of Chilean citizens do not trust their government. As we have witnessed a number of times, Chileans are still skeptical of rampant corruption in the country. Just last year, Michelle Bachelet was involved in a political scandal with her son. As we learned at Extend, even though Bachelet had been voted into office, capturing 62 percent of voters, her approval ratings dropped somewhere between 20 and 30 percent in the aftermath of the scandal. The PR consultants at Extend explained to us that today very few people trust Bachelet because of the way she incorrectly handled the scandal and withheld information from the people of Chile.

While this part of Chilean culture is difficult to discuss, the country flourishes in many ways. Chile is a vibrant city full of thriving businesses and continues to develop for its future. This part of a country’s culture is extremely difficult to observe right when you step off a plane, but is incredibly important to understand when one seeks to truly know an area’s way of life.


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