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Who are the indigenous women in Chile

These gender and ethnic inequalities are at the same time inserted in specific territorial contexts, characterized by different dynamics of interaction between: (i) the economic activities that take place in the territory; (ii) the territorial actors and their forms of individual and collective agency; (iii) the formal and informal rules and institutions that regulate the behaviour of the actors (Berdegué et al., 2012; Rimisp, 2016). The interactions between these territorial elements determine different opportunities for women to participate in and benefit from the development of their territories (Cortínez, 2016; Paulson, 2013; Paulson & Equipo Lund, 2011).

The intersection between gender, ethnic and territorial gaps becomes more evident in the rural areas of the country. About 23% of indigenous women live in Chile’s rural territories, with more relevant percentages in the regions of La Araucanía, Los Lagos and Los Ríos. In these areas, they face greater difficulties in accessing jobs and secure income, housing in acceptable living conditions, education and health care. Thus, while in urban areas 49% of indigenous women over 18 are unemployed or inactive, in rural areas this percentage reaches 71% of women, compared to 31% of indigenous men (Casen, 2015). In the country, the labour participation of both indigenous and non-indigenous women is mainly limited by the unequal distribution of domestic and care work (INE, 2016). However, in the case of indigenous women, access to work is further restricted by the lack of formal educational qualifications. Indeed, despite improvements in access to education for younger generations, their literacy and schooling rates remain lower than those of non-indigenous women, with the 6% who cannot read or write standing out against the 3% of non-indigenous women (Casen, 2015).

Although when women are able to access work, the likelihood that it will be informal, unstable or low-income is greater than in the case of men, a wage gap of 27% persists at the national level, which is maintained at parity in educational level. This probability is even higher for indigenous women, especially if they are rural, since their main income comes from activities linked to agriculture and trade. In line with the above, significantly higher income poverty and multidimensional poverty indices stand out in the case of rural indigenous women, 33% and 52% respectively, compared to 14% and 23% for urban women (Casen, 2015).

On the other hand, the income security and living conditions of rural indigenous women are affected by serious concerns regarding the protection of the rights of peoples over their ancestral territories and associated natural resources, vis-à-vis extractive companies and the State, which often leads to migration phenomena towards the cities and intermediate centres.

In this scenario, indigenous women in both urban and rural areas have been fortifying their traditional role as managers and protectors of their peoples’ heritage, through language teaching, traditional health and education practices, administration of natural or archaeological heritage, handicrafts, gastronomy, poetry, dance and other practices. At the same time, these activities, associated with the promotion of the cultural and natural heritage of indigenous peoples, constitute a relevant space for labour participation, allowing women individually, but especially through associative initiatives, to increase their income (Ranaboldo and Leiva, 2013).

Finally, their growing participation, organization and leadership in the struggle to assert the rights of their peoples and territories has strengthened their role as leaders and made them participants in new community, territorial and national processes and agendas that are now being debated by indigenous peoples and the country’s ad hoc institutions.

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