Chile's far-right presidential candidate José Antonio Kast Friday apologized for previous mistakes and vowed not to terminate the Women's Ministry if he is elected on December 19.
According to most surveys, Kast trails leftwing rival Gabriel Boric by at least 8% of the votes so Friday's move was regarded as an attempt to make up for lost ground among sectors where he lacks support the most.
In a controversial campaign appearance, Kast went back on his first-round promises where he would put married women ahead of all the others when it came down to social benefits.
Most single-parent households headed by women make up for half of Chile's social structure. Hence, Kast's deficit in terms of votes. So he started by telling his audience that so far in 2021, in Chile, there have been 35 completed and 146 frustrated femicides and 1,686 complaints of domestic violence. He also pointed out that the most frequent crime is that of sexual abuse against children under 14 years of age, with 589 cases in 2020 and 691 in 2021.
Kast then promised he would work so that all women in Chile feel safe and free. He added that I want to confess that we were wrong, in how we raised it, how we wrote it and for not having corrected the course in time and that the Ministry of Women would not be eliminated. When you make a mistake you have to apologize and I apologize to each of the women who may have been affected by our government program.
Kast also pledged to improve women's wages, doubling the state budget to incorporate the latest technologies in breast cancer detection and treatment in addition to the introduction of substantial reforms to the legislation on alimony and a transversal reform so that access to all state benefits and subsidies does not depend on the marital situation, among others.
“I’m not a political person, but I’ve joined this group to be heard,” says Olga Valenzuela, who joined thousands of women in a march on November 25 to Chile’s presidential palace to protest violence against women. Her daughter Muriel had been murdered aged 19 by her boyfriend four years ago.
Kast, a 55-year-old devout Catholic and founder of the far-right Republican Party, earned more votes than any other candidate in the first round of Chile’s presidential elections on November 21, securing 27.91 per cent support. He will face 35-year-old progressive Gabriel Boric, a former student protest leader.
“I don’t want a Kast government, he is someone that does not support women,” Valenzuela was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.
In 2018, 5.8 per cent of Chilean women had reported sexual and/or physical domestic abuse in the previous 12 months. Kast has pledged to curb domestic violence through harsher sentencing for perpetrators, but over his 16 years as a lawmaker, he has repeatedly voted against gender equality acts and women’s rights legislation.
Kast has also vowed to offer subsidies to heterosexual families with children – excluding single mothers and same-sex couples – and to ban abortion under all circumstances.
“He has a strategy against the feminist movement and considers that their values are at odds with the concept of a family,” said Paulina Vergara, professor at the Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Chile. “(Women) have such few rights, and without them, we will not have a real democracy,” Vergara told Al Jazeera.
Kast's political career has been based on adhering to guidelines shared by former dictator Augusto Pinochet.