UNITED NATIONS – UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment Tuesday of Chile's former president Michelle Bachelet to head the U.N. agency to promote women's equality, saying she will bring "dynamic global leadership" to the new post.
Bachelet was tipped as a possible leader of the agency — to be known as "UN Women" — immediately after the General Assembly voted unanimously on July 2 to put four existing U.N. bodies dealing with the advancement of women under a single umbrella. But U.N. officials said she initially told them she wasn't interested because she wanted to remain active in Chilean politics after stepping down from the presidency in March with sky-high approval ratings.
The secretary-general made no mention of what changed Bachelet's mind, but he said he took "special satisfaction" in announcing her appointment because the creation of "one powerful, dynamic and effective" women's entity "has been a top and very personal priority of mine."
"I am confident that under her strong leadership, we can improve the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world," Ban told reporters.
The U.N. chief said Bachelet was chosen from 26 candidates from around the world nominated by governments, nongovernmental organizations and civic groups. A selection panel led by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, which included members from inside and outside the U.N., recommended three finalists and Ban said he interviewed them last week and chose Bachelet.
A socialist single mother jailed during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, many thought Bachelet stood little chance of succeeding as president of socially conservative Chile. But she left office after four years with 84 percent approval ratings, having accelerated economic growth and introduced popular social programs.
For many years, the United Nations has faced serious challenges in trying to promote equality for women around the world because of the lack of funding and the lack of a single high-powered spokesperson and agency with international clout to pursue action.
The GEAR Campaign, comprising over 300 groups, was in the forefront of lobbying efforts to win approval for a more effective U.N. organization for women.
"I'm very excited and the civil society groups are thrilled," said Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University in New Jersey, a member of the GEAR Campaign. "Michelle Bachelet has always been one of our top choices for this position."
"She 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," Bunch said.
The platform to achieve women's equality adopted by 189 nations at the Beijing conference will serve as the framework for UN Women. It called for governments to end discrimination against women and close the gender gap in 12 critical areas including health, education, employment, political participation and human rights.
The new "United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women" — the official name of UN Women — will work on policy issues, provide assistance to U.N. member states that seek it, and promote and monitor the U.N. system's actions to promote the advancement of women. It is to be operational by Jan. 1
It will be funded by the U.N.'s regular budget — to which all 192 members contribute — and its programs and operations in the field will be funded by voluntary contributions.
The combined budget of the four bodies being merged is about $220 million annually, but the GEAR Campaign said it will be pressing to increase funding for UN Women to $1 billion within a few years.
Associated Press Writer Anita Snow contributed to this report from the United Nations