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These programs were created through the independent initiative of a handful of academics who have since been stymied in their efforts to consolidate this fledgling field of study in the university. Professors have had to confront patriarchal suspicions and resistance from within academia itself. Making their work even more difficult, those advocating the concept of gender have had to battle the country's conservative, Victorian culture. They have also had to confront the postdictatorship imperative to achieve consensus without confronting the real differences that divide Chilean society.

These gender studies programs have tried to take off despite the shackles of a restricted democracy whose legal framework was largely put in place during the military regime. By , however, it was evident that only a broad-based reform movement, in which gender programs were present, could produce the necessary institutional changes that would clear the way for these programs to assume a real and permanent place within the university. SERNAM paved the way for new laws dealing with social issues such as domestic violence and the lack of rights of children born out of wedlock.

The ministry also launched massive public information campaigns on teenage pregnancy and women's rights. But the gap continues to widen between the broad women's rights agenda promoted by SERNAM and what is happening on the ground. The feminization of poverty has not been radically altered, which is not surprising given that Chile has not significantly modified the Labor Code that was established during the dictatorship. The code, which has been criticized by the International Labor Organization ILO , does not allow workers full collective bargaining rights, nor does it provide for basic labor rights.

Working women in rural and urban areas are among the most affected by these policies, especially those working in agribusiness and in the textile industry. Abortion and divorce remain illegal. There has been in addition, wide public discussion of such urgent concerns as impunity, the need to revise the dictatorship's Constitution, electoral laws, and the role of the state in education, health and housing. Legislators have likewise not wrestled with affirmative action or discrimination. Such issues have an impact not only on the feminization of poverty, but on the democratization of the workplace, school, church and media, which function as intermediary spaces between "the democracy of the home" and "the democracy of the country.

In the political sphere, there has not been an increase in the real participation of women in decision making. Given these realities, gender studies programs—even as they grapple with the process of their own institutionalization—must rebuild the ties with civil society that were shredded during the dictatorship years. In particular, they need to coordinate their work with the networks of women's and gay rights organizations.

Otherwise, gender studies programs run the risk of becoming academic ghettos. Throughout the initial years of the postdictatorship period, many social movements and nongovernmental organizations NGOs found themselves confronting a crisis of institutionalization. This crisis was particularly intense for women's organizations, which debated how to resist being co-opted by the establishment.

Some argued that autonomy had to be collectively achieved both "inside" and "outside" of institutions, including within the traditional academic disciplines of the university. During the dictatorship, he had argued that privatization of education was not only necessary, but brought qualitative improvements. For Brunner, the neoliberal model, which encourages intellectual production that is ever more global and privatized, creates greater opportunities to disseminate information through a variety of media.

But Brunner did not discuss with equal zeal the problem of academic autonomy with respect to the market.

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As public universities are compelled to rely on self-financing schemes to survive as institutions, the market can hardly function as the "patron" of critical disciplines. Without the traditional support of the state, intellectuals find themselves forced to harness their creative potential to try to generate adequate funding in a highly competitive, arbitrary and exclusionary environment. In this debate over autonomy, it is also important to underscore the distinction between academic freedom the freedom to express controversial and dissenting views without fear of censure or retaliation and territorial autonomy the recognition of the university campus as an inviolate physical space, governed from within.

The winning of territorial autonomy has long been a jealously guarded achievement of Latin American universities. Paradoxically, the decrease in state financing of higher education in Chile has been accompanied by an increase in violations of the university's territorial autonomy.

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