“Politics is hard work, and it often involves many hours, little rest, and a lot of time away from the family. But it also brings many rewards: helping others and contributing to improve the quality of people’s lives is just priceless.” – Karla Rubilar
iKNOW Politics: Ms. Rubilar, thank you so much for speaking with iKNOW Politics. To start, could you tell our readers a little bit about your personal life and your background?
I spent my childhood in the commune of La Reina, which is where I lived until just a few years ago. My education began at two elementary schools, Colegio Isabel La Católica and Madres Escolapias; later, I went to high school at Colegio De La Salle.
All three schools are in La Reina. When I decided to go to college, I was torn between pursuing engineering or medicine. In the end, family tradition won out; my parents are both doctors. I studied at the Universidad de Santiago de Chile, and I was the second generation at the medical school of the university (traditional and state-run, connected to the Chilean left), so we had the difficult job of constructing what is currently one of the best medical schools in the country. Those were hard years, but happy ones just the same.
When I was in the university, I got pregnant, and when I was still studying, my son Patricio (Patito) was born. So all those years when I was working and studying, I was also caring for Patito. During my time at the university, I had the chance to work at different hospitals and primary care centres, so I got a first-hand look at the reality of health care in Chile. When it came time to decide what area of medicine I would specialize in, I thought about paediatrics, but when I witnessed the suffering of a mother who had lost a child, it was too much for me. Later I considered gynaecology, but I fractured a wrist in a car accident and, due to the injury, I couldn’t continue. So I then opted for what I was already familiar with, that is, primary health care. Later I went on to do a Master’s in Public Health at the Universidad de Chile, and I am currently doing an MBA at the Universidad Nacional Andrés Bello.
iKNOW Politics: We know you come from a family with a political tradition. Did you grow up amidst debates and discussions about politics? When did you first become interested or first consider becoming active in politics?
At my house, political debates were a constant. My mother is Mayor, several uncles and aunts are government officials, and some of them have been in government cabinets. I’ve got politics in my blood, some say, it’s genetic. I can’t just leave it aside. I think that my interest in politics began when I went to the university and started working; that’s when I first began to see the Chile that we are often unaware of, the problems people have and of how difficult it is to make public policies successful when these policies are drafted from behind a desk.
Once I was working, I got very involved in politics, in the youth groups of the Renovación Nacional Party. Later I had the chance to run for Congress, and I was elected to represent an area that I know very well. It took me some time to decide to run for office; even though I had always worked in politics or with politicians, I had never considered running, but in 2005, with the support of family, friends and important political figures in the Renovación Nacional Party, I finally made the decision. For me politics is a way to improve people’s quality of life, and to come up with ideas on how to help overcome the problems facing Chileans.
iKNOW Politics: So your family and friends supported you?
The support of my mother was fundamental, although she is a member of the UDI –political allies of the Renovación Nacional Party. Thanks to her, I received the affection and the trust that the people had given her as a result of her administration as Mayor. My friends also gave me a lot of support, particularly my current partner, the General Councillor of the Renovación Nacional Party, who was the main pillar of my campaign and of my winning the election.
iKNOW Politics: You are setting an important precedent in your country and in the region – you are a woman, you finished a professional career before you ran for public office, and you are the youngest congresswoman in the Chilean Congress. Do you think that there has been a real change in the political youth groups in Chile since your election? If your answer is yes, what have these changes been, and why?
I think it would be a bit pretentious to say that because you are young, the things in the country are going to change. However, I do think it is important to point out that in Congress today there are congressmen and women who have always been connected to the political youth groups in one way or another. They know what these groups think and they are familiar with their problems and the difficulties they face. Perhaps that is what has led to this change in the way in which politicians look at younger activists, and especially in terms of the Executive Branch, which listens to us and takes us much more seriously than before. But we still have a long way to go. In Chile, public policies focused on young people were nonexistent for many years.
Only a few advances have actually been made, and there was never too much desire to really get things done. However, it is clear that younger people are now on the political agenda, at least in my party. In Chile, registering to vote is not voluntary: it’s obligatory, and that – in addition to the lack of good public policy – has kept young people from registering, so their participation is very low indeed. This leads the set of eligible voters to grow “older,” and in the long run, it decreases the voter pool… So politicians have been forced to put young people on their agenda, to take them into account, to hear them out. For this same reason, in the House, we have a Special Youth Committee, over which I preside. This committee analyzes legal initiatives of relevance to young people.
iKNOW Politics: What can you tell us about the involvement of young people in politics in Chile – and in the region? In your opinion, what can be done to get young women more interested and more involved in politics?
Over the past few years, young people have gotten more involved. But as I mentioned a moment ago, this is still a pending issue. Although there has been more interest among women, focusing objectives on the issue of gender is, in my opinion, a mistake. Integration and interest should be a sectoral issue, that is, it should be aimed at young people, adults, or the elderly – not at men or women. I do not agree with quota laws per se, as I have always pointed out. On the contrary, I believe that we must move towards legislation that establishes a balance between family and work life, which would allow a greater number of women to be in powerful positions beyond politics.
In the case of countries that implement quota laws, I think that – in this case in particular – such laws should also be used to ensure the participation of young people in the political system, perhaps by offering economic incentives to the parties to encourage them to include young people on their candidate lists, because clearly young people have fewer chances to participate and it is harder to include young candidates.
iKNOW Politics: Since becoming a congresswoman, you have continued to be involved in issues related to young people. What are your short-term and long-term projects aimed at benefiting young Chileans, and in particular, women leaders and future women leaders?
In the House I pushed for the creation of a Special Youth Committee, which will continue throughout the current administration (2006-2010). In addition, the President has asked me to participate in the Presidential Youth Advisory Committee, where we deal with diverse issues that are of interest to the sector. One of the most important projects that I believe needs to be implemented in Chile is automatic voter registration, voluntary voting and the electronic vote. This would help young people not feel pressured to vote, and they could then vote freely if they so desire.
Politicians are going to have to start taking young people into account, offering them opportunities and coming up with ideas that are in line with what young people want. Apart from that, there is another aspect which is currently being massively addressed in Chile, and that has to do with greater transparency in public administration, greater access to information and greater use of the Internet. Young people today are Internet experts, so we must get to know them, get to know their way of seeing things, the tools they use, the language they use. I also think that re-election to public office should be limited so that people are not in office perpetually and so there is room for new people.
iKNOW Politics: What were the most serious challenges you faced during the election? Do you believe any of these challenges are related to the fact that you are a young woman leader? If yes, why?
It’s a complex process. There are many internal struggles in the parties to become a candidate. After that, the hardest part was being so young. In Chile, adults tend to vote for adults, because they believe that young people are too impetuous, that we have a good attitude but are not so willing to work, or simply because adults trust their contemporaries more and believe that these adults have already “established” themselves. That was a difficult task: people were not too willing to trust us, and winning their trust was a job that took many, many hours of work, a job that meant a lot of walking and only a little sleep.
In addition, there is always the issue of battling with candidates who have high purchasing power, so to speak… That is very, very hard, and for all these reasons, I had to work harder than you can ever imagine: on an average day, I slept only 2 or 3 hours, and the rest of the time I was campaigning, campaigning and campaigning. The costs were very high, especially in terms of my family: I had hardly any time for my son, and that was very, very hard. Without a doubt, that was the most difficult part of the whole affair. And financially, it was a challenge as well. This is clear in the Servel (the Chilean Electoral Service), because it costs money to get people to vote for young candidates, and for this reason, I think these candidates should receive special financing. What I would like to emphasize is that in my case, there was plenty of support from the people in my party and especially from my own work team and my friends, who were always there when I needed them.
iKNOW Politics: Was there any point in your political career in which you wished that you had had greater and more improved access to information and to other political leaders through some type of network? Had you had such access, how would you have benefited? Why do you think it is important to have such access?
I believe that I always had it, especially in terms of female leaders from the Renovación Nacional Party. The current Secretary General of Renovación Nacional has always given me her support. Lily Pérez is a wonderful person, and we have always had a great relationship. Another leader is the Mayor of Renca, one of the women who received the greatest number of votes in the country… And that’s my mother, and her support was fundamental in getting me into Congress. I believe that this “network” was excellent.
However, I believe that there should be more efficient information networks, networks that are easier to access, especially via Internet. You can try this on your own: invite a certain number of people to a meeting at an auditorium, and check the number of website visitors who are on your website at the same time. You will doubtlessly have more “electronic” visitors than you do in the auditorium.
iKNOW Politics: What advice would you give to all young women who are interested in getting involved in politics?
That they should pursue it, no matter what. That they should never, ever give up. Political life, in the words of a great Chilean politician (Andrés Allamand) is done without shedding a tear. They should have a strong character and a strong mind so that when criticism comes – oftentimes, unjustly – they can rise above it and continue down the path they have chosen. Politics is hard work, and it often involves many hours, little rest, and a lot of time away from the family. But it also brings many rewards: helping others and contributing to improve the quality of people’s lives is just priceless.
Coming up with a good idea often means more than just being congratulated: it means resolving a problem that people are facing, and those people are often the neediest. All those who want to get involved are welcome, but there is something they should never forget: humility comes before all else. In addition, you should always have someone who backs you up, as in ancient times, when the slave accompanying the triumphant general in the carriage as he paraded about the Roman Empire would whisper in his ear, “Remember you are mortal.” That is, you should keep your feet on the ground, and never forget that you may not be in politics forever so you need to keep in mind the things that are permanent.
Concluding Thoughts I would like to thank iKNOW Politics for this opportunity. I believe that it is fundamental for the entire continent to know that there are people working every day to improve the quality of politics, mainly by bringing in fresh ideas, changes, and greater gender balance, without compromising their ideas, principles and values. We can all work together when the country needs us, but when it comes time to defend our beliefs, we use the best tools available, dialogue and hard work, all with peace and seriousness, which are two key elements in politics. We must work towards making ideas more fruitful and abundant, because when there are no ideas left, that is the time when populism and totalitarianism grow strong, with out-of-date, decontextualized ideas. As politicians, both young and old, we should advance freely, with a lofty dialogue that allows our society to live in harmony and with commitment to our countries.