The incident took place on Tuesday evening during a meeting organized by the Manufacturing Exporters Association (Asexma).
The images have triggered an intense debate about the pervasiveness of sexism in a country that is run by a female president, Michelle Bachelet.
“The fight to earn respect for women has been an essential principle of my two terms in office. What happened at the Asexma dinner cannot be tolerated,” said Bachelet in a Twitter message.
What happened is not consistent with respect for the dignity of women
Economy Minister Luis Felipe Céspedes
Women’s Affairs and Gender Equality Minister Claudia Pascual tweeted: “We lament the gift. The economy needs to be stimulated, but women should stop being used as sexual objects for chauvinist jokes.”
The incident has stoked the debate on women’s rights in a country where abortion is prohibited in all cases, where Congress is now debating a law to crack down on street harassment, and where 51 women have been murdered so far this year.
The members of Asexma have a tradition of finding atypical presents for the guests at their annual dinner gala. Association president Roberto Fantuzzi said that a committee of men and women decide on the presents each year, and that it was determined that Economy Minister Luis Felipe Céspedes should receive a sex toy this year as a joke about the need to stimulate the economy.
“We apologize: I have a wife, daughters and grand-daughters, and there was never any intention to encourage violence against women,” said Fantuzzi on Twitter, where the scandal first broke.
The economy minister, who is seen smiling as he accepts the present, also begged forgiveness: “Even though the Asexma present came as a surprise, I apologize. What happened is not consistent with respect for the dignity of women.”
Also in the photograph are two center-left candidates to the presidency: José Miguel Insulza, a former secretary general of the Organization of American States, and Senator Alejandro Guillier.
Both have since issued condemnatory statements, despite applauding in public on Tuesday.
“My position against sexism and gender violence has been long held and is well known. I lament and reject what happened yesterday at the Asexma meeting,” said Insulza. Guillier, for his part, condemned “all types of discrimination and gender violence, even symbolic ones.”
Former Chilean presidents Ricardo Lagos and Sebastián Piñera have voiced rebukes of their own.
English version by Susana Urra.