Former Chilean President chosen to head UN women’s equality agency

Michelle Bachelet’s appointment to the newly created body is being welcomed by world leaders.

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Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has been appointed head of the newly established UN Women — an agency that will promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls worldwide.

Bachelet will be the entity’s Undersecretary-General and report directly to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She will take up residence in New York but says she hopes to make frequent visits to Chile to see her family and stay involved with the national issues.

UN Women will be operational in January 2011 and will have a budget of at least US$ 500 million, double the amount previously allocated to the four agencies being grouped together under UN Women.

In making the appointment, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Mrs. Bacheletbrings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, honed political skills and uncommon ability to create consensus.

“I am confident that under her strong leadership, we can improve the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world,” he added.

Ban said Bachelet was chosen from 26 candidates around the world. He had interviewed three finalists before choosing Bachelet. She will hold the rank of undersecretary-general, a level above the ranking of the current official dealing with women’s issues, Assistant Secretary-General Rachel Mayanja.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “[Bachelet] has broken barriers for women in Chile and throughout the region, and I am inspired by her passion, her expertise, and her courage to speak out on difficult issues.”

Bachelet, who in 2008 was ranked fifteenth in Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people, made great strides as President of Chile from March 2006 to March 2010.

Chile’s first female president put in place a gender-balanced cabinet and appointed women to the ministries of Defense, Planning and Economy.

In 2008, she introduced a basic pension for poor homemakers who have never earned a wage outside the home, as well as a wage per child for all mothers.

She also introduced “Chile Crece Contigo” (Chile Grows with You), which provides support for parents and children  from birth until age four and tripled the number of places at nurseries to assist women in the workplace.

In 2008, Chile was ranked fortieth out of 177 medium-income countries for human development  in a United Nations report.

“Bachelet’s designation as a cherished hope of the entire Latin American women’s movement,” Teresa Valdés, coordinator of the Gender and Equity Observatory of Chile, told the International Press Service.

“Bachelet… has distinguished herself as a champion for those who do not always have a voice,” added Former U.S. Sen. Timothy Wirth, head of the U.N. Foundation. “She was instrumental in pushing for a stronger network of social protections for Chile’s poorest and advocating for laws dealing with violence against women.

“In her new role, Bachelet will be responsible for elevating the rights and needs of women and girls across the globe, including the 330 million women who comprise the world’s working poor.”

Irina Bokova, Director general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said: “The creation of UN women … was already an important development. It is even more significant now that a person with the talent and experience of Michelle Bachelet has been named to direct it.”

According to reports, the platform to achieve women’s equality called for governments to end discrimination against women and close the gender gap in 12 critical areas, including health, education, employment, political participation and human rights.

“By selecting a leader of Dr. Bachelet’s caliber, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sends a clear message to the global community that women’s rights and equality will be considered at the highest level of deliberation on international human rights,” said Mary-Jane Wagle, the vice president for international programs of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“Planned Parenthood and our international partners look forward to working with Dr. Bachelet and UN Women to improve the health and rights of women and girls around the world, starting in the places where they are most marginalized.”

This post is also available in Spanish