United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced today that former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will be the first head of the new UN agency, UN Women. Bachelet was elected the first woman president of Chile in 2006. As President, she fulfilled a campaign promise to institute a gender-balanced cabinet. She first gained visibility and popularity in Chile as minister of health in 2000, when she revamped Chile’s public health system by instituting 24-hour health care to cut waiting times that had previously been as long as three months. In 2002, she was appointed Chile’s Defense Minister and was the first woman in a Latin American country to hold the post.
Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, told the Canadian Press, Bachelet “has shown an ability to bring women’s rights and gender perspectives onto mainstream agendas, which is one of the challenges that we’ve been working for since the last U.N. women’s conference in Beijing in 1995.”
The UN voted unanimously in July to create a new office on women to be called the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). Official operations of UN Women will commence in January 2011. UN Women consolidates four formerly separate entities within the UN that work for the advancement of women: the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The UN has estimated that UN Women will have a minimum budget of $500 million, which is twice the budget of all four former organizations combined.
The organization will have two basic functions. One is to assist intergovernmental bodies in forming policies and global standards. The other is to help Member States uphold the standards set by these bodies, along with providing the support to do so. UN Women’s work will be guided by the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).