Michelle Bachelet’s First Press Conference at the United Nations
Michelle Bachelet, recently assigned by the Secretary General of the United Nations to head UN Women, held her first press conference in the auditorium of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
As Latin American Focal Point for the GEAR Campaign and President of FEIM, I participated in this press conference where Bachelet demonstrated her political capabilities, although it is obvious that she was not able to talk about her service during her term in office yet because this would anticipate the timeline set by United Nations. Although she will not take office until January, starting now she will be incorporated into the United Nations and begin working with the transition group, which is made up of the four already existing women’s entities in the UN that will be integrated into the new entity. The representatives of the 41 countries that will make up the UN Women’s Board of Directors will be elected in October and the Committee will be constituted in November and begin their functions in January 2011.
Among the questions that she was asked at the conference, I will point out the most important ones, which I consider should be disseminated. How should violence against women be addressed—including massive rape of women in armed conflicts as well as such acts committed by United Nations Peacekeepers? Bachelet responded by stating that she will strengthen the actions of the Secretary General’s UNITE Campaign, and, among other actions, she will promote that the necessary laws are passed to address all forms of violence against women and that they be implemented in the countries where they already exist. She will also promote the creation and application of punishments for violence against women so that women feel that their rights are respected. She will promote that women not only receive treatment and support but also violence prevention, by advocating that this to be incorporated into primary education for girls and boys, and alluding to comprehensive sexuality education. Regarding massive rape of women, she said that these acts must be judged and penalized regardless of who commits them and that a review of ways to overcome the immunity of UN personnel will have to be carried out.
Another question was how she would work to achieve the Millennium Development Goales –MDGs- and if she would incorporate MDG 5: maternal health. She replied that now, in her new position, she will continue to advocate for fulfilling the MDGs, adding that 2015 is very close and we cannot wait any longer before getting to work. She recognized that since some time ago, from the MDG Support Committee, she was most interested in women’s and girls’ empowerment and maternal health. Now, in UN Women, she will focus more on these objectives and, she added, maternal mortality rates are very high and this affects women’s possibilities. For this reason she believes that, as this continues to be very important health issue, there are no excuses for not implementing these actions. She gave examples of effective interventions and even mentioned abortion as a cause that needs to be addressed in order to avoid these deaths.
She also stated that it is very important to improve women’s access to employment in the non-agricultural sector. Women’s participation is still very low, but she clarified that to achieve this, the current distribution of responsibilities in the family needs to be changed. For example, if women continue to be the sole caregivers for children, the elderly and the disabled, they will never be able to improve their participation in the formal labor market and this will keep them from achieving economic independence, which is something very important for improving the condition of women and real empowerment.
Later, she clarified that she the believes that UN Women cannot have only one formula for improving the situation of women, and it will therefore be necessary to see what is needed most in each country and privilege working on those issues, without leaving out others. In response to a question about how she will work in countries where women’s rights are ignored, she said that in those cases we will have to be realistic and work cautiously but continuously to move forward. Answering a journalist’s question about what it means to be realistic and cautious, Bachelet clarified that she is passionate and therefore, through UN Women, she will work to truly accelerate improvements for women. The audience applauded her answer.
In response to a question about whether she planned to work with civil society, she said that she already respects and knows the work of women’s organizations, that she has experience working with these organizations and that she believes that this is a key for UN Women. She mentioned, for example, that she has promoted the formation of advisory committees, commissions and other mechanisms for civil society participation, and that she will also promote this in UN Women.
She did not mention the situation of UN Women’s financial resources because there were no questions on this matter. Nonetheless, this is concerning because the commitment is to reach 500 million dollars but there still is not even a third of this amount. Therefore it is necessary that all states increase their donations and that women’s groups take an interest in this.