URUGUAY faced extreme political unrest during an authoritarian civic-military dictatorship from 1973-1985. Yet, just over 30 years after democracy was restored, Uruguay has become one of the most tolerant countries in Latin America — and the world. There has been an influx of prosperity in recent years due to the progressive politics of former President José Mujica. During his five-year presidency, Mujica legalized abortion, marijuana, and same-sex marriage, which Global Citizen has coined as the ‘golden triangle of progressivism.’ Uruguay was named as one of the top 10 countries for personal freedom last year. Here are policies that world leaders could learn from Uruguay.
1. Uruguay is the most secular country in the Americas.
Uruguay has had a strict separation of church and state since the early 1900s. The movement started by removing religious teachings from schools in 1909 followed by an amendment to the constitution in 1917, which provides all citizens the freedom to practice the religion of their choice. Divorce was legalized around the same time, even though it had been traditionally banned under the rule of the Catholic church. Preaching religion in public school is still prohibited, but students are allowed to miss school for religious holidays. December 25 is celebrated as Family Day, rather than Christmas Day. Three King’s Day, which is widely celebrated by Catholics in South America, is Children’s Day, and Easter is Tourism Week.
2. Uruguay is a global leader in fighting climate change.
An incredible 95% of Uruguay’s energy needs are met by renewable sources such as wind, biomass, and solar power (the world’s average in 2015 was just 12%). Just 10 years ago the country had no wind power and by 2014, Uruguay produced the most wind power per capita in the world. Now, there are almost 40 windmill farms creating clean energy in the lush Uruguayan countryside. The nation is well on its way to an optimality renewable energy supply by 2020 and has joined the Paris climate agreement. Short-term goals include powering all public transport with electric energy and creating the world’s first fully sustainable airport. Uruguay has also joined other Latin American countries in a movement to end fracking and stop using fossil fuels. Uruguay has placed a tax on plastic bag consumption in order to encourage civilians to use reusable bags.
3. Uruguay has always been a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ rights.
Homosexuality has been legalized for nearly a century. It became the first country in South America to pass a national civil union law in 2008. The same year children over 12 were legally allowed to change their names, a ruling aimed towards aiding transgender youth. The following year same-sex couples won the battle to be able to adopt children, making Uruguay the first country in Latin America to allow joint adoption by homosexual couples. The Uruguayan Senate has since increased LGBTQ+ rights by legalizing same-sex marriage; it is the 12th country in the world to do so and second in Latin America after Argentina. Mujica, the president at the time, said “not to legalize it would be unnecessary torture for some people.” Furthermore, LGBTQ+ citizens have the legal right not to be discriminated against in the workplace because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; they may serve in the military; and donate blood. Incredibly dangerous sexual orientation conversion therapy has been banned.
4. Uruguay is a literacy champion.
98.5% of the Uruguayan population over the age of 15 enjoy high levels of literacy. This is partially due to the government’s investment in education which can be traced back to the 19th century. Universal education began in Uruguay in the 1870s when it became the first Latin American nation to make education a requirement for all children. The government continues to invest in the education of Uruguay’s youth, and provides a laptop to every child who attends state primary school. Secular and free public education expands to university pursuits.
5. Liberal social policies have increased women’s rights.
Pioneering in reproductive rights, abortion was made legal during the Mujica presidency. The law allows for the termination of pregnancy within the first trimester and extends two additional weeks for rape cases. Previously, a similar bill had been vetoed by former, and current, President Tabaré Vázquez. In Uruguay, one woman dies every 15 days from domestic abuse. Neighboring Brazil reported in 2010 that each day 10 women were victims of murder as a result of domestic violence. Although Uruguay’s femicide rate is comparatively low, the government is working towards a goal of reducing domestic violence by 10% by 2020 through awareness and rehabilitation for male offenders. The women’s rights movement is hardly new in Uruguay; in 1932 women achieved the right to vote. The feminist mentality extends to young girls, with the World Bank Group working towards ending gender bias in Uruguayan classrooms.
6. Civil liberties and human rights are top priorities.
Only 0.3% of the population lives in extreme poverty with an additional 9.7% living in moderate poverty. Uruguay has successfully met the first of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which demands that countries must work towards alleviating poverty. Also, only 3.3% of citizens were undernourished as of 2016. Uruguay is one of the only Latin American countries where the entire population has access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Uruguay has also abolished the death penalty for any crime.
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