Partner of Chile’s president-elect draws feminist ire over first lady role

Irina Karamanos, an avowed feminist and partner of Chile’s leftist president-elect Gabriel Boric, has drawn fire from women’s groups for her decision to accept the “anachronistic” role of first lady.

Feminist groups derided Karamanos for accepting a post they say is not awarded on merit but obtained through a woman’s private relationship with the president.

Boric, who was elected Chile’s youngest-ever president aged 35 in December, is due to assume office on March 11.

Karamanos, a social scientist and activist of 32, said Tuesday she would accept the first lady job, but exercise it with a modern, feminist twist.

The pair have been in a relationship since 2019.

Like in many other countries, the role of first lady in Chile is not officially defined, but traditionally involves overseeing the work of social organizations. 

It does not come with a salary, and is exercised from the presidency’s socio-cultural division, which has an office in the presidential palace.

Boric himself had spoken in favor of abolishing the position, saying on the campaign: “There can be no posts in the State that have to do or are related to a relationship with the president or with anyone.”

– ‘Different times’ –

But then Karamanos said Tuesday that reforming the role would involve “adapting it to the times.”

She added: “Also, as a feminist I think this position — and it seems contradictory to take it on as a feminist — in reality is mostly a challenge that we can exploit to talk about different issues, and display a new way of exercising power.”

Her announcement divided the feminist movement.

While some applauded her commitment to reform, others agreed with her own statement that accepting the role contradicted her commitment to advancing women’s rights.

Karamanos is head of the Feminist Front of the Social Convergence party which is part of the leftist Broad Front to which Boric also belongs.

“We have different ways of looking at feminism,” Daniela Osorio, spokeswoman for the activist group Coordinadora Feminista 8M, told AFP.

“Our analysis has nothing to do with Irina herself… For us, the right thing to do would have been to abolish the position.”

Added Priscila Gonzales of the Chilean Network Against Violence Against Women: “I do not doubt in her abilities, what I question is the continuation of a profoundly chauvinist position in which women are relegated to a secondary role.”

But Erika Montecinos, founder of the Rompiendo el Silencio (Breaking the Silence) lesbian rights group, said the focus should be on Karamanos’s promise to change the position.

“That is what’s important. To transform spaces — and give them a feminist vision.”

Questions have also been asked about the couple’s unmarried status.

“How do you ask for an audience with the president’s concubine?” former lawmaker and one-time presidential candidate Tomas Jocelyn-Holt asked on Twitter, inviting a flurry of criticism.

Boric has come out in support of his partner.

“Her intention to modernize and make the office transparent reflects the work we have collectively been doing: we have to make the changes responsibly and from within,” he said.