Since democracy was restored two decades ago, Chile has worked hard to progress in areas as essential as the reestablishement of the rule of law, the protection of human rights and the consolidation of freedom, stability and governance as well as economic growth, social progress and freedom of the press.
Chile has grown faster than other nations and has substantially reduced poverty while, at the same time, consolidating democracy with pragmatic and effective governance.
As president of Chile, I worked hard to defend the country's stability and governance. At the same time, I worked to further the country along the road to economic growth and social equality. One of our objectives was to make progress in the area of gender equality. A law to ensure that men and women who did the same jobs received equal salaries was one such initiative.
We got congressional approval to drastically reform the pension system ensuring a base pension for all people, especially women. We thought that if the country were more prosperous, then we would to reduce the poverty of the elders who helped build this society. Other actions included state support for women with entrepreneurial initiatives in small and medium businesses.
This perspective is closely linked to efforts to free up a society's creating capacity so that private initiative can fully bloom. Experience has shown that our best intentions in a social arena can be frustrated if the economy cannot develop its capacity to generate wealth, create jobs and increase productivity.
I was recently honored with the mission to lead U.N. Women. The United Nations has created this new entity to promote gender equality and empowerment of women and fight against discrimination throughout the world.
• Seventy percent of the poorest of the world are women and girls.
• More than 60 million girls around the world are forced into premature marriage before they turn 18.
• Women are generally paid less, and their jobs are generally less secure than those of men. Globally, women's salaries are 17 percent lower than men's, despite legal progress made in many countries.
• Violence against women and girls continues to be a major problem in all continents. A World Health Organization study of domestic violence in 10 countries showed that 15 percent to 17 percent of women, at some time, had reported physical or sexual violence against them by the husband or parents. Acts of violence have caused more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
There are many other examples of the disadvantages that women face in areas such as education, healthcare, economic growth, political influence and decision making.
On Oct. 26, I participated in the session of the U.N. Security Council, which voiced its commitment to integrate women into peace talks and to pay attention to specific needs of women during and after armed conflict. At the meeting, I stated that a stronger platform for their protection must be built.
Usually during conflicts, women can be agents of peace. They are the essential victims of death, sexual violence, injuries and so on. But when peace talks start, women usually are not sitting at the table of negotiation and their special needs are not taken into consideration. Resolution 1325 insists that women's specific needs must be considered.
U.N. Women will support existing efforts to improve the fate of women during and after armed conflicts in order to make them more committed to the prevention of such conflict and guarantee that peace process can meet their needs.
I don't look at women as victims, I look at them as agents of change, people who can make important contributions to their countries. No country should lose the talents and the contributions of half of its people. In the era of globalization, nothing is more morally and politically necessary than the defense of human life and human dignity and the struggle to protect people from subjugation, wherever it may occur.
I am convinced that a solid democracy that sets out to constantly redefine itself can create the conditions for the cause of gender equality to advance and change the lives of millions of women and girls on every continents. Only democracy generates an environment in which human dignity is properly valued, individual liberties are truly respected and pluralism and the culture of freedom as the foundation for a more just and human society can be promoted.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is the first Under-Secretary-General for U.N. Women, the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women created by the United Nations in July. She recently spoke at a dinner in her honor in Miami hosted by the Association of Bi-national Chambers of Commerce.