Chilean Women Make Gains Under Bachelet

The Associated Press
Friday, March 9, 2007; 3:30 AM

SANTIAGO, Chile -- One year into her mandate, Chile's first woman president has legislated the right to breast-feed in the workplace, offered greater protection against domestic violence, cracked down on alimony-dodgers and placed more women in positions of power.

But there's more to be done in this conservative country where women often earn up to 30 percent less than men, administration officials say.

The election in January 2006 of socialist Michelle Bachelet, a separated mother of three, gave women across Latin America cause for hope that the region's macho ways were changing. "Chile is no longer our fatherland _ it's our motherland" became a popular refrain.

On Thursday, Bachelet celebrated International Women's Day by promising no return "to the days when the top jobs were filled with dark suits and neckties."

Women's Day coincided with the start of a weeklong Latin American tour by President Bush that takes him to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. Chile isn't on his itinerary.

A physician by training, Bachelet embraced gender issues from the start of her administration a year ago Sunday and can point to a number of gains:

_A law she called "just and beautiful" gave women the right to breast-feed at work.

_Penalties were stiffened for men who fail to pay alimony.

_Hundreds of nurseries have been established nationwide, as well as domestic violence shelters for women and children.

_Equal numbers of women and men now hold top administration jobs, including in her Cabinet.

_Women were for the first time admitted at the naval academy.

_ Girls as young as 14 can get free morning-after contraceptive pills.

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