Agustina Ordoqui: What would Chile be like today if “apruebo” had won?
Jeniffer Mella: It would have been a country in which women took on a new role. We dreamed of another starting point, redirecting the country towards a different kind of society based on new rules. We have been living in a fragmented state, which through its public policies excludes many communities, and especially women, from decision-making.
Agustina Ordoqui: What made you want to participate in this process as a constituent, and how will you continue to work for a new constitution from now on?
Jeniffer Mella: As a lesbian feminist activist living in a region of Chile that is not a metropolitan area, I considered that I could make a contribution and also represent peasant women and fisherwomen who live differently than a woman who has had all the opportunities in life. I wanted to include that intersectionality. So I discussed it with my partner and my daughter, and decided to participate.
Now, we have to digest the defeat. We have to make sufficient and necessary self-criticisms. If the conclusion is that we were wrong, we will do something else, but never stop. If the diagnosis is that we lacked support, we will have to continue to build majorities. But I am confident that no matter what, we will continue.
Agustina Ordoqui: Why do you think the new constitution was rejected?
Jeniffer Mella: The process was as important as the result, and the process became very dirty. The constituents were not able to see this because we were locked in very intense work, up to 15 hours a day. We did not have institutional support, nor did we know how to seek it, nor did we have the time to communicate what we were doing.
I believe the composition of the constituent convention contributed to this: only 59 out of 154 members were political party activists – the remaining 95 were independents. So our representation wasn’t correlated to Chilean political parties, who could have helped us to shape what was defined in the constitution and to communicate it. There was a huge communication problem, and we let the conservatives take over the agenda.
There’s also a tendency to reject in Chile: first, the vote to reject the 1980 constitution in the 2020 referendum; then, the vote for the constituents was a rejection of political parties; not wanting the Congress to do it was a rejection of institutionality; and now they have rejected [the new constitution] – so there is no logic other than rejection. To have worked thinking that, whatever the product was, it would be approved if it was better than what we had before, regardless of effective communication – that was fiercely innocent.
Agustina Ordoqui: Constitutional enshrinement of equality between women and men, sexual and gender diversity, gender parity in democratic instutions, the right to a life free of violence, the recognition of domestic and care work, equal labour rights in a country where women earn 28% less than men – these are really the foundations of a gender-sensitive state. Was Chile close to achieving a feminist utopia?
Jeniffer Mella: Yes, we were close. I think it was a dream, those things that you had the opportunity to do and you try to achieve. But at the end of the day we realised that we fought with very weak weapons in a battle that required much greater logistical support. If there was an opportunity like that again, or if I could go back in time, I would mount a communications campaign from the beginning to reach every part of the country. I think a feminist utopia was possible, but there was brutal misinformation. If I were to go back in time, I would do it differently. The same work, but with different communication.