Press Conference by Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet

25 January 2011

Press Conference by Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet

25 January 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet


The success of the new United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in its quest to advance the status of women and girls worldwide depended largely on the efforts of many different actors, but above all, on the political will and the work of the United Nations, Governments, civil society, and the media, said its Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet.

Briefing correspondents at Headquarters today on the priorities for the new agency for 2011, she said she understood very clearly the enormity of the task before her and her new agency, and as such, UN Women intended to strengthen national capacities to work with women by getting closer to them, to their problems and to their reality on the ground.

UN Women, she said, intended to represent the voice of women in all high-level forums of political, social and economic discussions.  To that end, Ms. Bachelet leaves today to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where she would present the “economic, political and social case for women in the world”.

She said the agency, as the largest single United Nations body ever charged with advancing gender equality, would not only be bold and ambitious, but also practical in building an organization that would make a lasting difference in women’s lives.  Operational as of 1 January and fresh from its first executive board meeting yesterday, UN Women would back actions by countries and work in partnership with the international community and civil society to ensure that all women and men enjoyed equal opportunities to work and make their own choices about their lives.  The agency believed in the enormous capacities of women as leaders and agents of change.

Realistic about the task ahead, the Executive Director said:  “I do believe there are parts of the world where women are victims and need our protection, and not merely the prevention of those abuses and situations, but I truly believe that women are a key of development and are a great force in many areas”.  And, UN Women hoped to be the United Nations champion for women as compared to the four or so smaller agencies and entities that previously existed.

The new single entity meant more resources, more programmes and more expertise in addition to a combined mandate, the first of its kind in the United Nations system, she asserted.  The Gender Equality Fund managed by UN Women would disburse some $60 million in the first six months of 2011, in grants to Governments and non-governmental organizations working to achieve women’s political and economic empowerment.  Indeed, the agency was well positioned to offer gender equality programmes in individual countries and work globally with the United Nations Member States to forge international standards and goals for gender equality.

Additionally, UN Women would lead the United Nations system in coordinating the efforts of all agencies in support of gender equality.  She recalled the widespread good will and high excitement that had greeted the new agency, and outlined for correspondents her vision and principles for UN Women.  A priority, she explained, was support to countries, starting with the 78 nations where the agency currently operated.  Field capacity assessments that would permit the Agency to determine what it would need to scale up or do better were already under way and expected to end by mid-February. 

She said she planned to visit all regions in the first quarter of 2011 where she would meet with Government officials, women’s organizations and others.  The entity would serve as an advocate for gender equality and provide expertise that countries requested to put in place laws, policies and programmes, and help meet the challenges of their implementation.

The agency would also put new focus on women’s political and economic empowerment, thereby expanding their leadership role, she said.  Women’s role in peace and security was also significant, and the responsibilities in that regard were outlined in Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  UN Women would also continue to work to combat violence against women and to improve their working conditions.  It would also seek acknowledgement for women’s role in food security and the agricultural sector, particularly in the developing world, especially in countries of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.  Efforts to bring women to the centre of the peacekeeping process would also be highlighted in the agency’s work.

Asked whether she preferred quiet diplomacy in dealing with individual Governments that did not respect women’s rights or saw herself as a vocal advocate, she said of necessity each case would be dealt with on its own merits.  For instance, on matters of sexual violence against women, there already was a senior United Nations official, Margot Wallström, who served as the “voice of women” affected by violence in conflict.  However, UN Women would work, for instance, to strengthen the national capacity of women to have access to justice.

Replying to a question about whether UN Women had devised a plan to deal with the emerging threat of fundamentalism, which inherently put women’s rights in the “background”, she admitted that although the issue had been considered, there was a need to find more ways of avoiding those setbacks.  “We believe that the way of doing this is to empower women,” she said, adding that with political empowerment, such problems could be avoided. 

Asked if UN Women had a strategy to empower Arab women, she noted that the United Nations had subregional offices in Palestine and Jordan.  She believed there had been some progress in many countries where some laws, such as those against female genital mutilation and promoting the greater participation of women in the economic sphere, had been enacted.  However, a lot more still needed to be done.  To that end, she would be attending a meeting of Islamic countries in Cairo, at which she would take the opportunity to discuss such matters with Heads of State and Government, and First Ladies.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.