Global champion for women: interview with Michelle Bachelet
To mark the official launch of UN Women on 24 February 2011, the UNESCO Courier presents an interview with Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of the new UN agency. Conducted by Jasmina Šopova, the interview will be published in the Courier's April-June 2011 issue.
1) Can you tell us what inspired you to make violence against women one of the key priorities of UN Women? And what types of violence are women subjected to in the world?
Violence against women is one of the most widespread human rights violations. It is one of five priority areas UN Women will focus on because making progress in this area can accelerate progress for women across many fields. For example, a woman who lives free from violence has much better prospects to find a good job, seek an education, care for her health and act as a leader in her community or elsewhere.
Women face many types of violence. Many societies in the world today have some elements of this, and the prevalence rates can be as high as 76% if you look at women across their lifetimes. Specific forms of violence include domestic violence, rape, sexual violence as a weapon of war, early marriage and female genital mutilation.
2) What other priorities are you planning on tackling and how will you mobilize the necessary resources to achieve your goals?
We will actively support and look for creative ways to empower women economically, increase women’s roles as leaders and advocates of change, bring women to the centre of peace and security processes, and integrate gender equality priorities across national planning. Part of mobilizing resources to achieve these goals will be to demonstrate how much of a contribution women make to development, not just for themselves, but for their societies at large. There is growing evidence of this. The most recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index Report, for example, shows that out of 114 countries, it is those with greater gender equality that are more competitive and grow faster.
3) What human and financial resources does UN Women currently have at its disposal? Is it enough to achieve your mission?
UN Women inherited the resources of the four UN entities that have been combined to create it. Building on these resources and moving forward, as recommended in the Secretary-General’s comprehensive proposal of January 2010, a minimum annual budget of US $500 million is foreseen. This is the target we will be working towards.
4) Are you planning to prioritize certain countries? If so, which ones, and for what reasons?
We will work with all UN Member States that request our assistance, both developing and developed countries. UN Women currently has varying presence in approximately 80 countries and we will need to strengthen our exiting presence in some countries where there is the greatest need. We will be doing this over time and as we build our institutional capacities and resources. Within countries, a priority will be to reach the most marginalized groups of women. They are the most in need of UN Women’s support and reaching them can make the most effective use of our resources. As UNICEF has started to demonstrate, investing in the most marginalized part of the population offers higher rates of return.
5) What is the role of gender equality in the Millenium Development Goals? How do you plan to give it more importance?
Achieving Gender equality – Goal three, is fundamental to achieving all of the other MDG goals. We will continue to advocate on the critical linkage between gender equality and all the other goals—on poverty, health, education, the environment —as we move towards the target date of 2015.
One MDG issue that is particularly important is maternal mortality. Globally, we have not made nearly enough progress. We can—and must—do much more. Saving more lives in childbirth requires basic knowledge and inexpensive tools that could be readily available everywhere, if governments and the international community decide to really make that a priority.
6) The number of women elected as Heads of State and Government and of UN Agencies has been rising in the past few years. Has this already had positive effects on critical issues concerning women around the world?
If we look back in time, we can see that enormous progress has been made in the last 100 years. Although challenges remain, gender equality has a momentum that it has never had before at any other point in history. This is true both on the international level and in most countries.
This is because women have taken leadership roles as advocates for gender equality—at many levels, whether in communities or as heads of state. Women leaders have made sure that a growing number of people understand that we must bring women fully into our economies, we must end violence against women, we must tap into women’s capacities as agents for changes that benefit everyone. And that we must bring resources and take the actions necessary to achieve these goals—as we have now done in part through the creation of UN Women as a global champion for women.