After four years of heavy lobbying, the infant international agency U.N. Women is taking on the responsibilities of gender equality and female advocacy worldwide. Leading the charge as the first head of the organization is Michelle Bachelet, the first female Chilean defense minister and first woman president of Chile. Her approach is redefining the traditional notions of feminism, and looking to promote empowerment over victimhood.
Ms. Bachelet is practicing these concepts by embracing an unconventional understanding of gender equality, hiring a man as one of her two deputy directors. She explains, “We need men. We need to obtain big important male champions.” U.N. Women’s three-year gender awareness program stems from this idea, focusing as much on training male mediators about women in conflict as fostering future female leaders in the field. Ms. Bachelet will focus on getting women involved into politics, business, and peacekeeping roles, by affirmative action, if necessary. She refers to the significant failings of the goals for female representation set forth in the 1996 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing, declaring, “We need a change in mind-set, a cultural change.”
Her approach has elicited significant criticism, especially from leaders in Africa and Asia, where the majority of women in the world live. Fatoumata Siré Diakité, Malian Ambassador to Germany, responded, “She was very focused on Europe and America. She didn’t mention Africa at all.” In particular, many lament her downplaying of the Millennium Development Goals. Some of the greatest failures of these MDG’s include response to genital mutilation, HIV and AIDS, and maternal mortality.
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