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Michelle Bachelet Has a Mission

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
September 11, 2011


The United States has come in for particular criticism after giving a mere $6 million in 2011. The State Department, whose budget covers U.N. funds, asked Congress for $8 million for U.N. Women for fiscal year 2012, quite a bit less than what many observers had expected, given the key role America played in lobbying for U.N. Women. Women's activists have called the amount “shameful,” but State Department officials say they are doing the best they can given the fiscal crunch and congressional realities.

The shortfall is especially frustrating with the challenges confronting women around the world at the present moment. The Arab Spring and its impact on women has been an early focus for Bachelet. She has directed U.N. Women to work quietly and closely with women in Egypt, supporting at their request a group of organizations that is fighting for women's presence in the government they helped create.

Bachelet insists she is not discouraged, though she admits to underestimating the time required for fundraising. “I am not disappointed. I am not frustrated,” she says. “I would just love to be able to progress much faster than we can.”

Fortunately, Bachelet's background prepared her for struggle and endurance. Her experience with torture and imprisonment as a young woman “was a personal earthquake,” she says, leading her to be moved by and called to “noble causes.” “You have to be doing things that matter—responsibility, but also responsibility with epic and beautiful and noble tasks.”

Right now the task before Bachelet is building U.N. Women with the limited resources she has and scoring results impressive enough to win more backers. Her term lasts four years, but Chilean observers predict she will return home sooner, in time for the 2013 presidential election (in which she is legally permitted to compete).

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