Having served one term as Chile’s first female president, Michelle Bachelet last year became the head of UN Women, an agency working for gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Last week in Brussels, she gave a keynote speech at the EU/UN Summit on Sustainable Energy for All.
One of Michelle Bachelet’s priorities is improving women’s access to safe energy, especially in developing countries, where women face both economic and social discrimination.
Isabel Marques da Silva, from euronews, caught up with her.
Isabel Marques da Silva, euronews: “Despite all the promises and pledges of money, how can we make a real difference to the everyday lives of these women?”
Michelle Bachelet: “They do so much unpaid care work – that means they go water fetching, firewood collecting – that if we could provide those women with the energy needed to do even the most normal household activities like cooking, heating, lighting the home, it would save them so much time in doing it. It would permit them to be better educated or involved in a productive activity.”
euronews: “Why was there a need to sign a memorandum of understanding between the UN Women agency and the EU if you already worked together? Is there a specific field that you are focusing on in 2012? Could you give me practical examples of bigger cooperation?”
Michelle Bachelet: “We have been working together in the past but we need to expand this relationship to make it a little bit more global, comprehensive and not ‘project to project’. Of course someone could come here and talk to one commissioner, one office and get a project. But we wanted something more. We want to mainstream gender issues within European Commission activities in terms of how, if you work in governance and in political participation, women can have a place there. If you are working in economic development, how the projects will include what happens to women, particularly resources for women.”
euronews: “And that also means more money? Because you had to raise 500 million euros in your first year and then you wanted to double that number. Were you able, in this first year of your mandate, to raise that money?”
Michelle Bachelet: “We wanted 300 million dollars for this year. We have already raised 235, so we need to continue fund raising. But we need much more money because we set the 300 million target because we knew that the economic situation is difficult. Because our biggest donors until now have been mainly European countries like Spain and, of course, they are in a situation where they have to make a lot of adjustments. Nordic countries have always been fantastic partners and they continue to be.”
euronews: “Not the United States?”
Michelle Bachelet: “Well, the United States supports us with some money, but it is not our biggest donor. Australia is a very important donor and Japan and Korea.”
euronews: “So, you are optimistic?”
Michelle Bachelet: “No, no, no. One thing is that we have done better, but it is not enough. We need much more money! Think that of the seven billion people that are living on the earth, 3.5 billion of them are women and 70 percent live in poverty.”
euronews: “Do you think that the Arab Spring movement is threatened by these more extremist parties demanding Sharia law? What is the role of women in this very important democratic movement?”
Michelle Bachelet: “Well, we all saw with the Arab Spring that it could be a very big opportunity for women in terms of advancing their rights. We can not speak about all countries in the same way. Each one has a very different situation. In Tunisia after the elections, 26 percent of the people that are going to make decisions are women. We would like more than 30 percent but it is pretty good. It is better than in some European countries! But if you think of Egypt on the other hand, it is very low: only 1.8 percent of elected officials are female. We need to work with the parties, and with religious leaders. We have done very good things in many parts of the world.”
euronews: “While we’re speaking of religious leaders, let’s move to another corner of the world. Latin America for instance has many contrasts. I mean, we see lots of women in power like in Brazil, Costa Rica, Argentina, but there is also a lot of violence against women and a lot of deaths due to illegal abortion. What is the dialogue, with Catholic church leaders, for example?”
Michelle Bachelet: “It is the same with all the leaders of the world. How can we find common ground on how to advance women’s rights, how to ensure women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services? How to ensure that women have family planning. If we see what is happening in the world today, maternal mortality means that every minute a women dies doing the most physiological and normal thing; giving birth to a child.”
euronews: “Yes, but for instance, the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, pledged to ‘walk on that field’, but due to pressure from the Catholic Church, she…”
Michelle Bachelet: “Yes, I know, but we need to work with them and demonstrate how important it is for religion to help people’s lives. So we need to do things to help people’s lives. For example: there are 260 million girls and women today that want access to contraceptives. They do not have access. I can assure you that if we could provide those women with contraceptives – family planning, alternatives, whatever contraceptives – we would dramatically lessen maternal mortality.”
euronews: “That’s a field you know very well because you have done medical studies. But you have also done military studies, I believe, and you were defence minister before you were president of Chile. I’ve read that you want more female police officers, more female peacekeepers, and peace mediators. Do you believe that women with weapons in their hands can make a difference in terms of violence and war?”
Michelle Bachelet: “I believe it, but there is also clear evidence on that. For example, I believe women are peace builders and peacemakers and I have seen in many international situations that women can bring rationality and peace to some discussions. In many places in the world where, unfortunately, women are seen as second or third class citizens, to see women in power – with guns, as powerful entrepreneurs, as political leaders, as presidents of republics and so on – gives a sense of strength, support and hope for women.”
euronews: “But with the exception of Nordic countries, there are less than 25 percent of women in governments, in parliaments, even in executive boards in the private sector. Do you believe in quotas?”
Michelle Bachelet: “Oh completely! First of all, political participation by women is the biggest gap in all the goals on women’s rights. It is not only ‘We need to have women!’ It is that we have to have women because women give an added value. Because when economists and businessmen are thinking how to recover the economy, one of the main issues that comes out is diversity, new ideas, creativity. If you bring women and men together, bring people from different regions of the world together, you get a better outcome.”