Press Conference by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women

2 February 2012

Press Conference by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women

2 February 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women


The top priority for UN Women in 2012 would be a renewed push for women’s economic empowerment and political participation as change was demanded in the Arab world and elsewhere, the Head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women told correspondents at headquarters this morning.

“With rising demands for justice, upcoming elections in many countries and political transition, we can open doors wider for women in pursuit of the dignity and rights to which all beings are entitled,” said Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, as it marked its one-year anniversary.

In its first year of operation, she said, UN Women had already provided important support to women’s empowerment in the context of the democracy movement in Arab States and the continued global economic crisis, as it focused on building a strong organization with clear goals and established its presence in 75 countries.

When the protests had erupted in Tunisia and Tahrir Square, she said, UN Women had responded immediately by providing support for women’s participation in constitutional reform, elections and political transition.  It had assisted, for example, in the establishment of the Egyptian Women’s Lobby, an association of 500 groups, and in the facilitation of their demands in the form of the Egyptian Women’s Charter.

She herself had travelled to the region four times to meet with women and young people.  Some $4.8 million was being provided through the Gender Equality Fund for women’s empowerment in the Arab world.  At the same time, UN Women’s efforts had helped make possible a General Assembly resolution calling for women’s political participation to be increased by concrete measures in Member States by 2013.  In 2012, she said, UN Women would support women’s movements in 52 countries, working with parliaments, supporting training and supporting reforms in electoral laws.

In the economic sphere, she said that, last year, UN women had supported countries in providing training and skills, increasing access to markets and making policies, laws and conditions fair for women.  For example, on the global policy level, the organization had supported the adoption of the Convention on Domestic Workers.  At the national level, it had supported women’s cooperatives.  In Senegal, for example, women now had fishing licenses for the first time.  “I understand they are catching more fish than men,” she added.

Outreach to the private sector, she said, had led to commitments to the Women’s Empowerment Principles by over 250 corporation heads.  Efforts to empower rural women were reinforced through partnerships with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).  In 2012, UN Women would make a major push to put women on an equal economic footing with men through training, equitable laws, social protection, opportunity, access to assets and guarantees for the rights of migrant workers.

She outlined some of the major achievements in the fight against violence against women, following UN Women’s launch of a global policy agenda, which included awareness-raising and support for effective national laws and policies, along with an initiative to provide services to survivors.  By the end of 2011, the Trust Fund to end violence against women had had a portfolio of 96 active grants covering 86 countries, with a total value of over $61 million.  Unfortunately, violence was still widespread and more funding was needed.  In the coming year, UN Women would focus on making justice work for women, ending impunity, strengthening prevention by engaging broad sectors of society and ensuring services for survivors.

Also in 2012, she said, UN Women would intensify efforts to expand women’s roles in peace talks, peacebuilding and recovery, and to ensure that national budgets benefitted women and men equally.  In its coordination role, the organization had prepared an action plan that would provide a stronger foundation for promoting gender mainstreaming and accountability within the United Nations system.

Asked about the sources of the $255 million in contributions to UN Women, Ms. Bachelet said that between 1.4 and 1.6 per cent came from the regular United Nations budget and was targeted to such areas as guidelines and normative actions that required complete neutrality.  All the rest came from voluntary contributions, some for general operations and some for specific programmes, such as Japan’s funding on combating violence against women in Afghanistan. 

Fund-raising in the private sector and at country level continued, as much more funding was needed, she said.  In the context of economic difficulties, it was that much harder to get that funding, but the key was to use all monies effectively.  “We hope to show that every penny spent with UN Women is a penny well spent,” she said. 

On the election of Islamic parties in Arab countries, she commented that the result of elections must be respected, but UN Women was supporting parity laws, such as those of Tunisia, where female representation in the legislature was 26 per cent.  In Egypt, on the other hand, quota laws from the past had been abolished and, as a result, the elected assembly was only 2 per cent female.  UN Women would continue to promote women’s organizations and women as leaders, candidates and public figures, as representative Governments developed in the Arab world.

To several questions about Latin America and the Caribbean, she said that UN Women was very active in all areas there.  She said it was still the most unequal part of the planet and women were among the poorest, particularly women of indigenous and African descent.  On the other hand, there were six women Heads of State and Government in the region.

Women in such visible positions made a huge difference beyond the policy sphere, she said, as they provided role models and exhibited certain values alone.  Of course, she added, having been the first female President of Chile, she knew it was also important that women in such positions worked for concrete policies in favour of women’s advancement. “You need to ensure that other capable women had a chance”, she said.

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