U.N. Secretary-General Taps Former Chilean President To Head U.N. Agency For Women

“Michelle Bachelet, famous for breaking gender barriers by becoming the first woman elected president of Chile, will head the new global United Nations agency created to advance women’s rights, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced Tuesday,” the New York Times reports. “Ban said he chose Ms. Bachelet, 58, from 26 candidates for her political skills and ability to create consensus. She had been a front-runner from the start” (MacFarquhar, 9/14).

Bachelet “will lead ‘U.N. Women,’ a body formed in July to oversee and merge four U.N. programs focused on promoting the interests of women and girls,” CNN reports (9/15).

“For many years, the United Nations has faced serious challenges in trying to promote equality for women around the world because of the lack of funding and the lack of a single high-powered spokesperson and agency with international clout to pursue action,” the Associated Press reports, adding that the “platform to achieve women’s equality adopted by 189 nations at the Beijing conference will serve as the framework for U.N. Women. It 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” (Lederer, 9/14).

According to Bloomberg, “The executive board of U.N. Women will have 41 members: 10 from the African group of member states, 10 from Asia, four from eastern Europe, six from Latin America and the Caribbean and 11 from western Europe and other areas, according to the General Assembly resolution.” The official name of the agency is “U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women” (Varner, 9/14).

“The new entity is set to have an annual budget of at least $500 million, double the current combined resources of the four agencies it comprises,” writes the U.N. News Centre, noting that “one of the main goals [of U.N. women] will be to support the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and other inter-governmental bodies in devising policies” (9/14).

“Ms. Bachelet brings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, highly honed political skills and uncommon ability to create consensus and focus among U.N. agencies and many partners in both the public and private sector,” Ban told reporters during the announcement, according to a U.N. transcript. “I am confident that under her strong leadership, we can improve the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world,” he said.

“Bachelet is credited with a decision to save billions of dollars in revenues to spend on pension reform, which guaranteed a programme of social protections for women and children, despite the financial crisis,” during her time as president of Chile, Press Trust of India/MSN News reports. “This included tripling the number of grew early child care centres for low income families and completion of some 35,000 child care centres around the country,” according to the news service (Sharma, 9/15).

Agence France-Presse/Vancouver Sun also examines Bachelet’s political history on women’s rights issues in Chile, including her efforts to fight violence against women and “improve opportunities for Chilean women in the workplace, tripling the number of places available at nurseries and introducing legislation, which parliament rejected, to reduce gender-based salary inequalities” (9/15).

“As long as I have known President Bachelet, the needs of women and marginalized populations have topped her list of priorities,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement issued by the State Department. “With President Bachelet at the helm, U.N. Women will be a powerful force in our shared work to elevate the status of women and girls. It will strengthen the U.N.’s work on women and girls, mainstream gender equality throughout the U.N. system, and ensure that these issues enjoy their rightful status” (9/14).

Politico’s Laura Rozen quotes U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice on her blog: “U.N. Women deserves a powerful voice at the U.N., and President Bachelet is uniquely qualified to provide the credibility, talent and dynamism that it will need to begin its important work. … As a pediatrician and epidemiologist and the first woman president in the history of Chile, President Bachelet is acutely aware of the challenges that affect women, particularly in the developing world,” Rice said (Rozen, 9/13).

Inter Press Service reports on the reactions of global health advocates and political scientists, and elaborates on the challenges ahead for Bachelet as she works to increase U.N. Women’s budget (Estrada, 9/14).

U.N. News Centre adds that Ban “stressed that at next week’s U.N. Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) women and children will be ‘at the very core of our final push’ to realize the ambitious targets for slashing extreme poverty and hunger, maternal and infant mortality, rampant diseases, and lack of access to education and health services, all by the deadline of 2015.” Ban will formerly appoint Bachelet to the position on Sunday, according to the new service (9/14).

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