9
Mar

Talking to the head of U.N. Women about what a true post-feminist world would look like.

Interview by Elizabeth Dickinson

Michelle Bachelet has broken a lot of glass ceilings in her time: first female defense minister in all of Latin America, first female president of Chile, and now the first head of U.N. Women, the first U.N. body entirely devoted to holding the world accountable for the treatment of women and girls. Bachelet has already earned plauditsin this realm from her days as chief executive in Santiago, where the former pediatrician extended daycare for poor families, widened health insurance coverage, and improved pensions. In her new job, she told FP’s Elizabeth Dickinson that she plans to use hard facts to convince governments worldwide that helping women is in their interests — and, hopefully, bring us closer to a day when International Women’s Day, and her own organization, will become unnecessary.

Foreign Policy (FP): Imagine a world in which we don’t need U.N. Women. What does that look like, and how do we know when we have gotten there?

Michelle Bachelet (MB): I can imagine a world where women and girls have the same opportunities to develop their capacities, their talents, their merits, and their dreams. Where women do not suffer from gender-based violence, where children can study at school freely without the threat of being raped on the way to school, where girls can get married at an age they decide, where girls are not victims of female genital mutilation. Where women can contribute to improve their societies as full citizens and full economic actors, so the world won’t lose the capacities of men and women in those different dimensions. Where there’s no exclusion, where there’s no discrimination, where there’s no harmful practices, where women don’t die when they give birth, where children don’t die when they are born; in that world, [U.N. Women] wouldn’t be necessary.

But the other day, I was invited to Hunter College in New York, and there was a lecture about women in peace and security in Roosevelt’s house. I ended my remarks saying, “What would Eleanor Roosevelt think of U.N. Women?” And many people probably thought that I was going to say that she would be so happy. I said she would have said, “So many years! And still, women are battling the same things from 60 years before.”

Having said that, I have to say that during these 100 years that the world has celebrated International Women’s Day there has been progress, but there’s still so much to do.

FP: How will you convince states that working for women is in their best interest?

MB: The women’s movement for so many years developed this central concept that is completely right, that women’s rights are human rights. But having been a minister and a president, I know that heads of state and heads of government have so many different challenges, and there are so many human rights that they have to deal with. Usually women’s issues are not so relevant for them. If you look at the ministries of gender, usually their budgets are not very high because they think that through the other ministries you are also dealing with women. But that doesn’t happen. It has to be mainstreamed, pushed in a very specific way.

We need to work on showing more clearly — with stronger arguments — how important women are as an economic actor, as a political actor, as a social actor, so that presidents and prime ministers see how they cannot lose the important contribution that women are in the community. I will try to produce this information linked to the region, and I hope someday [to produce it] country by country because I think each president needs to have good arguments to make good economic and political decisions. We will be working on that and also work on trying to build a big network of universities, research centers, women’s centers, so that we can have the strongest possible data in terms that will permit people who make decisions to make the best possible decisions. Read more…

Elizabeth Dickinson is projects editor at Foreign Policy Magazine.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on March 8, 2011.

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