Replacing Michelle Bachelet: A ‘very crucial phase’ for UN Women

Michelle Bachelet, outgoing executive director of U.N. Women. Photo by: Breakthrough Ring the Bell / CC BY-NC-SA

The search to replace Michelle Bachelet as executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women will begin “very soon,” according to the spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, through a routine high-level appointment process.

Bachelet, the former president of Chile, has yet to reveal her expected departure date to U.N. Women, said Oisika Chakrabarti, a spokesperson for the 3-year-old gender entity that constitutes four U.N. gender equality agencies and offices.

Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general, told Devex that the task of finding a successor to Bachelet, who announced her resignation on Friday, at the culmination of the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, will not be easy. She praised the adoption of an agreed conclusion to the forum, this year focusing on violence against women, before she publicly made clear her plans to leave.

“This is obviously a hugely important post,” said Nesirky on Tuesday afternoon. “The secretary-general has paid extremely warm tribute to Ms. Bachelet for the work that she has done in this very crucial phase of UN Women. The trick now is going to be to find a successor who can carry on that work.”

Bachelet, as popular in her post as the leader of U.N. Women as she was as leader of Chile, is said to be returning to her country to once again run for president. The next presidential elections in Chile will be held Nov. 17, 2013.

So far, civil society leaders and participants who sat in on side panel discussions and events at the two-week meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women – and have followed Bachelet’s stint at the United Nations — are not speculating or offering names as to who they would like to see take on the role.

Savi Bisnath, associate director of the Rutgers-based Center for Women’s Global Leadership, said that instead of pinpointing individuals and circulating names, the focus should be placed on considering the qualities required to be the leader of U.N. Women.

“We need someone who is an incredibly strong advocate for women’s rights, someone who is going to take on leadership of this organization at this moment when we are facing a financial crisis and when the gains that we have made in so many countries are at risk of being eroded, in part because of the financial crisis,” Bisnath told Devex.

Regional representation — often a key issue for the United Nations in hiring practices — is not a top priority for Bisnath, who with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership serves as a focal point for the global GEAR Campaign, which advocated for the creation of U.N. Women.

“As members of civil society we support that [hiring practice], but there is often no contradiction between regional representation and the substantive work,” Bisnath explained. “We support this only if it is really linked to the substantive work.”

Ban appointed Bachelet in September 2010 as the head of U.N. Women, four months before the entity become operational. She was selected, he then told media, out of 26 candidates from around the world, who were screened by a selection panel of senior advisors and the deputy secretary-general. Ban then interviewed the three finalists and appointed Bachelet, he said, for her “wealth of experience, global leadership and global stature.”

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.