UNITED NATIONS — At a noon press conference, live streamed from the United Nations (UN), the new Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, former Chilean President Michele Bachelet, faced a room full of international reporters.
Speaking mostly in English, Under-Secretary General Bachelet reminded reporters that she’s only been on the job three days, with the official launch date of her new department not slated to begin until Jan. 1, 2011. She fielded questions ranging from what will be her strategy to help advance women’s rights in conflict-torn countries to her response to accusations of UN peacekeepers raping women under their watch.
Former Chilean President Michele Bachelet answers questions during a press conference at the United Nations in her new role as Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
“I’m a very realistic person,” began Bachelet when responding to a question about how she will work with women in those countries who have no rights. “I’m completely aware of the challenges for UN women. UN women have been supported by an enormous number of member states and I will be calling on the political commitment of these members.
“There is not one single common strategy on how I will work with these countries. If I may say, I will do it wisely. According to case to case. We will define the realistic goals. We will work very hard, championing if I may say, for women’s opportunities. Or we will be focusing on what’s more urgent.”
Emphasizing that the role of her department would not displace the UN entities already working on women’s issues, Bachelet said it would be a matter of pulling together the four departments now in charge of working on gender issues to see what other women’s issues need to be addressed.
Bachelet was asked if she could use any programs she oversaw when president as models for new UN programs and she said she could certainly draw from her experiences. She cited her development of affirmative action-type programs that she created to address gender equality in Chile.
Agreeing with one reporter from Ecuador that domestic violence is a big issue in South America, Bachelet said that what was needed was strong legislation and strong implementation of laws against domestic violence. She said that it will take education, starting from the earliest ages, to teach boys and girls to respect one another.
Bachelet admitted her work is cut out for her with some corners of the globe making women invisible, along with, relegating them to second-class citizen status.
“Women’s issues are human rights issues,” Bachelet declared.
In response to the question about UN peacekeepers raping women, Bachelet emphatically said, “Rapes are condemned and have to be condemned.”
Bachelet was just as emphatic about her future for the time-being at the UN agency versus returning to Chilean politics.
“This is my commitment today and I will work passionately with it, but I will never abandon my people.”