Issue 154 – September 23 – Michelle Bachelet Appointed Head of UN Women

New York, September 23, 2010 - On Tuesday, September 14, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced his highly anticipated appointment of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as the head of the newly-created UN Women. UN women, more formally known as the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, was established earlier this year to consolidate efforts by four separate UN agencies to more effectively deal with women's issues.

For more background on the establishment of UN Women, see UNelections Monitor #152.

Bachelet's appointment as Under-Secretary General has been widely applauded as a victory for international women's issues by UN insiders and civil society groups alike. According to the Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) campaign, "Michelle Bachelet is a top notch choice and has long been one of GEAR's dream candidates."

Aside from being highly competent and well-qualified for the top position, many are also extremely hopeful for the high-profile that Ms. Bachelet will bring to UN Women, which will require a great deal of funding from outside donors to be truly successfulAccording to the Los Angeles Times, "With her appointment this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has brought some badly needed star power to the world organization in general and to women's issues in particular. Now he must ensure that Bachelet has the money, staff and political support to do the job successfully." There is little doubt that Bachelet is the candidate for the top post; but the question remains as to whether she will be able to secure the financial means necessary for UN Women to realize its immense potential.

About Michelle Bachelet

As many of her colleagues have enthusiastically pointed out, Ms. Bachelet is highly-qualified for her new role. Michelle Bachelet is trained as a pediatrician and a linguist. She speaks Spanish and English fluently, and has also studied German, French, and Portuguese. She has graduate studies in Military Sciences as well. In 2008, she was ranked as number 15 on Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people.

In Chile in the 1990's, Bachelet worked with the National AIDS Commission, consulted for the Pan-American Health Organization, the World Health Organization, and the German Technical Cooperation Agency. She then worked on improving healthcare services while consulting to the Health Ministry in 1994. After excelling in military strategy studies, she began working with Santiago's Socialist Party. In 2000, Bachelet was appointed Minister of Health, where she was tasked with improving public healthcare, and in 2004, she was appointed head of the Defense Ministry. In 2006, Michelle Bachelet became the first woman president in the Republic of Chile's history. For a more detailed background on Bachelet, see UN Women.

However, while reactions to Bachelet's appointment have been overwhelmingly positive, reactions to the selection process, unfortunately, have not.  

Selection Process

According to the Secretary-General's office, there were:

-26 candidates for the position (all female)

-14 of these candidates interviewed by a Selection Panel (chaired by the DSG)

-Top 3 candidates interviewed by the Secretary-General

-Finally, the Secretary-General met with the Selection Panel to review his decision.

Room for Increased Transparency

Though pleased with the final outcome, civil society members regret that the selection process itself was not as transparent as Ban had reportedly promised earlier in the year As AIDS-Free World reported, Bachelet's appointment was " excellent outcome emanating from a fundamentally corrupt selection process... the search for a strong under secretary-general to lead UN Women was cloaked in furtive secrecy, marred by backroom wheeling and dealing and thoroughly dishonest in its claims of being a 'fair, open and transparent' process with the meaningful involvement of civil society."

The UNelections campaign continues to advocate for a merit-based, global, inclusive and transparent recruitment process for UN officials, as this guarantees support from all stakeholders regarding new appointees.

Next Steps for UN Women

Despite the flawed process, however, many networks, such as the GEAR campaign, remain hopeful for what the appointment of Bachelet will mean for the future of UN Women: "This landmark decision comes at a critical juncture as the UN reforms its internal systems and has recently been seen as an exhausted and under-resourced international institution. UN Women can provide new vision and hope and will need to bridge governments and civil society as we progress into the 21st century."

Now that a USG has been appointed, the ECOSOC continues to finalize procedures for the elections of members to the Executive Board. The aim is to elect members to the board by November 2010, with the much-anticipated UN Women being fully-operational by January 2011.

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