Michelle Bachelet, ex-President of Chile and Director of UN Women (UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) briefed the Women's Committee about the role and objectives of the UN agency 24 March and met EP President Jerzy Buzek 25 March. She took some time to tell us about the remaining obstacles to gender equality, the influence of women in politics, their role in the Arab revolutions and her experience as President.
What are the main obstacles to gender equality today?
Women's lack of power. That's why the key task is to empower them. When women have power, when their voices are heard through political participation, when they are actors in the economic and social processes in their countries, that is when we can strengthen their potential as workers with rights, as small or medium-sized entrepreneurs with access to credit or land, in the case of farmers, and with more women in responsible posts in the private sector.
When there are more women in directors posts, women's issues acquire a particular dimension, and when there are women in politics, politics changes, its quality changes, it gets better. That is why it is so important to have both men and women.
Another obstacle to equality is violence against women. It is a universal pandemic that goes across all social levels, ethnic groups and religions and that is why it is essential to solve it. We will go on working with the EU in this respect.
A last core element is how to guarantee that in conflict and post-conflict countries, women, and their worries and problems, are taken into account; how to repair those who have suffered from violence, rape, mutilation, etc. Society as a whole has to understand that this is everyone's problem, not only women's.
What is your perception of the role of women in the Arab revolutions?
I have just been to Egypt. I think it is very important to make sure that the female presence in Tahrir square, where young men and women were pushing for a more democratic country, is not lost. Don't let that presence, that participation, that perspective disappear. Democracy is not only about voting, it is also about inclusion, pluralism, diversity...and I think now there is a tremendous opportunity for women, even if lots of help is needed.
You are an example of a woman at the top. Did you have to overcome many gender-based obstacles in your professional life?
I was very lucky to be part of a family that always understood that women have the same rights as men, a family that always supported me and gave me the incentives to make my dreams come true, so that I didn't perceive the world as restricted for women. On the contrary, if someone works hard, putting all their intelligence, ability and passion into the values and causes they believe in, it is possible to achieve one's dreams.
The truth is that I never planned to be President of the Republic, but my commitment to others led me to work in public service, to become Health Minister and then Defence Minister...and the country saw me as a possible President. I say this because the message is important: often, women don't have visibility in areas linked to power, but in services, and the symbolic image of women linked to power gets lost.
There are always obstacles, people who want to stick with the status quo.....I took up my government posts while maintaining my female characteristics, and in the beginning some people didn't understand that it was a different kind of leadership. There are always obstacles, the important thing is that women get the chance to demonstrate that they can be successful.