Cablegate: Embassy Santiago Nomination for International Woman Of


DE RUEHSG #1176/01 3381837
O R 041835Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Embassy Santiago Nomination for International Woman of
Courage Award

REF: STATE 111471

1. Post nominates Maria Antonieta Saa Diaz, Chilean
parliamentarian, for the Secretary's International Woman of Courage
Award for 2010. Deputy Saa has been a fierce advocate for women's
issues throughout her political career, spanning from her
clandestine activism during the Pinochet dictatorship to her roles
as mayor and member of Congress. Whether she is co-authoring and
supporting legislation on trafficking in persons, advocating for
harsher punishments for domestic violence, or speaking out about
access to reproductive health and education, Saa has always worked
to put women's issues at the top of the agenda.

2. Since she was a young child, Saa dreamed of a career in
politics, telling her mother that she wanted to become the first
female president of Chile. At twelve years old, Saa began her
lifelong commitment to social justice issues by joining the
Catholic Student Youth organization (Juventud Estudiantil
Catolica). With Juventud Estudiantil Catolica, Saa engaged in her
first community service efforts, volunteering in impoverished areas
of Santiago, and took on the first of many leadership roles.
During her time with this organization, Saa traveled to Berlin,
Germany, to participate in an international Catholic Student Youth
conference. Along with fellow students, Saa was in Berlin to
witness the building of the Berlin Wall and to experience,
first-hand, the ravages of Communism.

A Women's and Human Rights Advocate from Dictatorship to Democracy

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------

3. A woman of courage since her early days in the trenches of the
Chilean feminist movement, Saa faced a difficult decision following
the 1973 military coup d'etat. Many progressive leaders and
ordinary citizens were fleeing Chile due to the harsh repression
and very real risk of detention, torture, or death at the hands of
the Pinochet military regime. However, Saa made a personal and
political decision to remain in Chile despite these risks and
continue her work clandestinely, leading many of the first feminist
organizations in Chile.

4. While a member of the vanguard of the Second Wave feminist
movement in Chile in the 1980s, Saa worked as the General
Coordinator of the non-governmental organization Circle of Women's
Studies. This organization was instrumental in disseminating,
analyzing, and producing the literature that served as the basis
for the women's movement in Chile. Saa was a member of Women for
Life (Mujeres por la Vida), a non-violent group composed of human
rights activists and family members of the disappeared and
politically imprisoned; it demonstrated against Gen. Pinochet's
dictatorship. With this organization, Saa worked with women of a
variety of political stripes to increase the profile of women's
issues in Chile and on the agenda of the Pinochet administration
and to integrate women into the burgeoning pro-democracy movement.
At this point, Saa's active participation in political
demonstrations was noticed, and she was first identified by the
Carabineros (Chilean uniformed police officers) as a principal
member of the opposition to the military dictatorship.

5. Saa served as the sole women's representative in the Civilian
Assembly, an opposition group composed of members of various
political organizations, and was elected director of the group in
1986. The Civilian Assembly presented a formal list of demands to
the military dictatorship, including a petition for the recognition
of women's issues. It was during her time in the Civilian Assembly
that Saa began to feel more acutely the intimidation of the
Pinochet regime. She went into hiding briefly before being
arrested and detained in an annex of the San Miguel Men's Prison
(La Carcel de Hombres de San Miguel) for three months.

6. Leading up to the 1988 referendum that resulted in the defeat
of the Pinochet dictatorship and the return to democracy, Saa
played an active role in formulating the agenda for the next
administration and the years of consolidating democracy that
followed. As a founding member of Women for Democracy, Saa worked
feverishly in the months before the referendum to promote three
goals: the establishment of a government program dedicated to

gender equality; the inclusion of more women in appointed
positions; and an increase in the number of women in elected
political offices. Work by Saa and other coalition members led to
the creation of a government body dedicated to women's issues, the
precursor to the current National Service for Women (SERNAM,
Servicio Nacional de la Mujer) which promotes women's rights,
campaigns against domestic violence, and collects statistics on
issues of concern to women. The coalition's work also laid the
foundation for cultural re-examination of women's roles in
politics, which ultimately came to fruition 16 years later with the
election of Chile's first female president, increased appointments
of women in government office, and a government policy committing
to gender equality.

7. Upon the restoration of democracy in Chile in 1990, President
Aylwin appointed Saa mayor of Conchali, a lower-income municipality
of greater Santiago. During her four year mayoral term, she
promoted women's rights through a domestic violence conference, a
series of women's rights workshops, and other events.

Congressional Leadership: Legislating for Change

--------------------------------------------- --------------------

8. Following her tenure as mayor, Saa ran for Congress and was
elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1994 representing the
seventeenth district of Conchali, Huerchuraba and Renca. Women
account for just 13% of all members of Chile's Congress--the lowest
rate in South America--and many female officials are elected
largely on the basis of their relationship to famous men, as the
wife, widow, or daughter of a prominent male leader. Thus Saa's
presence in Congress and her election based solely on her own
merits is particularly noteworthy. Saa has successfully campaigned
for this seat three times since her first election and is currently
maintaining a comfortable lead for her fifth term from 2010 to

9. Just four years after her election to Congress, Saa served as
the Chairperson of the Committee to Impeach General Augusto
Pinochet in 1998. This committee of legislators attempted to
impeach Pinochet and thereby retroactively eliminate his immunity
from prosecution on human rights violations. While the committee
did not achieve this goal, it did intensify the national debate
about crimes against humanity and the role of the Pinochet

10. Saa has been a consistent champion for women's and children's
rights in the Chilean Congress. Chile's conservative laws often
favor men in family relationships, including limiting the default
property and legal rights of married women and stigmatizing
children born out of wedlock. Saa co-authored and advocated for a
bill allowing persons in common-law marriages to have access to
communal property rights, legislation which became law in 2007.
She also co-authored and continues to champion pending legislation
seeking to allow unmarried mothers to cite the name of the father
on birth certificates and a bill combating domestic violence by
strengthening the criminal code against "femicide."

11. Deputy Saa's efforts to strengthen Chile's laws regarding
trafficking in persons have been particularly noteworthy. In
Chile's highly centralized, presidentialist political system,
members of Congress rely heavily on the executive branch to propose
and prioritize legislation, although parliamentarians can introduce
some types of legislation on their own. Sensing indifference from
Chile's government ministries, Saa drafted trafficking in persons
legislation on her own in 2002, convinced her peers in the Congress
of its importance, and later persuaded the executive branch to
re-introduce the legislation as a government-backed bill in 2005.
The legislation was passed by the Chamber of Deputies in 2007 and
is currently pending in the Senate.

Bio Data


12. Saa is aware of the nomination and is pleased. She is
available to travel to Washington to accept award if chosen.

Full Name: Maria Antonieta Saa Diaz

Position: Congressional Deputy

Date of Birth: January 8, 1943

Place of Birth: Santiago, Chile

Citizenship: Chilean

Office Phones: (56) (2) 734-5007, (56) (2) 625-9378

Cellular Phone: (56) (9) 874-3950


Passport number: D 025202

Languages: Spanish, modest understanding of English and French

13. Point of Contact: Grace Choi, Economic/Political Officer,
Economic/Political Affairs Section,, (56) (2)

© Scoop Media

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