“Progress for women is progress for all”


UN Women executive director advocates women’s empowerment at Cornell University

“Progress for women is progress for all”

On September 5th, UN Women executive director and former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet delivered a lecture on gender equality at Cornell University. Henry E. and Nancy Horton Bartels World Affairs Fellowship sponsored this lecture, “Women and the New Development Paradigm,” in cooperation with the Emerging Markets Institute of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Michelle Bachelet was the Chilean minister of defense and the minister of health, prior to her service as the first female president of Chile, from 2006 to 2010.  She is now the under-secretary-general and executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Woman).

“Gender equality and women’s empowerment are not only goals in their own right, but they are also the fundamental drivers of social, cultural, political, and economic progress.” Bachelet said, “This recognition that progress for women is progress for all informed the creation of UN Women.”

Closing the gap between male and female employment rate would boost GDP by 9 percent in this country, and the discrimination of women in certain sectors would increase this gap by 25 percent. Bachelet said, citing a recent UN study.

Despite these findings, women still continue to earn less than men for the same work and face challenges in balancing work and family life, she said UN Woman is working with countries to remove those barriers, with  programs that range from providing training skills, to making laws, policies, and conditions fair for women. Bachelet, called attention to programs that encourage companies to recruit and retain more female managers and advocate a more flexible schedule for working parents. She also paid homage to Australia’s 10-year program that aims to empower women in the Pacific Islands, where women live in extremely unequal conditions.

“When you work to advance women’s opportunities, [it’s really important to] think of specific policies needed, to acknowledge what the obstacles and barriers are and find the solutions,” she said.

Bachelet emphasized the importance of having women hold leadership positions, which leads to more programs that directly address women’s rights and equality, and also creates a role-model effect that raises young women’s academic performances and expectations. Increasing the visibility of women in politics “paves the way for future generations,” she said

“Women will no longer stand on the side lines. Nor can we. Now it’s time to stand up for a sustainable future that will be shared by both women and men,” she concluded.

—Yuezhou Huo, ‘15