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Friday, September 30, 2016

Washington warmly welcomed Chilean President Michelle Bachelet

 President of the Republic of Chili, Michelle Bachelet, speaking at the Wilson Center, September 22, 2016/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Last week at the Wilson Center, the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, spoke passionately about the importance of women's participation in politics and in all aspects of life.

"Women can be true agents of social change," she said to a SRO crowd of about 500.

"Women feel they have to be perfect.  They don't have to be perfect."
President of the Republic of Chili, Michelle Bachelet, speaking at the Wilson Center, September 22, 2016/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Ms. Bachelet is the first woman elected to the presidency of Chili and the first person to be elected twice to the position since 1932 (2006-2010 and 2014-present). On July 6, 2016, Reuters reported the lowest approval ratings ever recorded for Ms. Bachelet: 22%, primarily due to reforms she is trying to implement, rising unemployment, and a financial scandal involving her son and daughter-in-law.

The ratings didn't seem to bother Ms. Bachelet in Washington, for she spoke confidently, at ease in surroundings of mostly supporters and the curious.

Wikipedia errs when it claims she speaks English with "varying levels of fluency." I was expecting a halting, stilted presentation, however, her delivery of remarks contradicted the online source. 
President of the Republic of Chili, Michelle Bachelet (center) with Cynthia Arnson (left) and Gwen Young at the Wilson Center, September 22, 2016/Photo by Patricia Leslie

She spoke the day after the 40th anniversary of the murder of former Chilean ambassador and exile Orlando Letelier (1932-1976) at Washington's Sheridan Circle, but not a word was said about him or the event.

She did mention rights.
After enduring decades of totalitarian rule under the leadership of Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006) whose henchmen killed Letelier, "Chile is a country where people are more aware of their rights.  For young people, it's all about rights. Children of democracies are much more demanding."

Ms. Bachelet is also the president of the Pacific Alliance, a trade pact of Chile, Columbia, Mexico, and Peru, a group she frequently cited, whose nations are committed to achieving gender economic equality. 

"Women do make a difference," the president said, and make "a more just society." For "women and men to enjoy the same rights," she said, "we have a long way to go."

She praised India where half its engineers are women. "They want their girls to study."

"Many women don't like politics because politics is hard; sometimes it's harsh and they prefer to do other kinds of stuff."

She credited the French twice for the aphorism: "When a woman goes into politics, the woman changes.  When women go into politics, politics change." The audience applauded.

"I am convinced women have a key role ," she said more than once.

"There is no progress when women are not active in decision making."

Without naming him and to light disapproval from the crowd, she mentioned the 2005 remark by then Harvard University president Larry Summers who opined that "innate differences" likely keep more women from excelling in science. 

Ms. Bachelet focused her remarks solely on the empowerment of women at the session which was co-sponsored by Smith College. 
Businesses which give money to politicians can create a conflict of interest, she said.

No stranger to Washington, she lived in Bethesda for two years while growing up when her father was a Chilean defense attache, and later, she attended the National Defense University.

She spoke from the podium about 15 minutes before she sat down and joined Wilson Center's Cynthia  Arnson, director, Latin American Program, and Gwen Young, director, Global Women's Leadership Initiative and the Women in Public Service Project, who asked her questions, and then later, Ms. Bachelet also answered questions from the audience, a member who asked her about the impeachment and removal from office this year of Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff.  

Ms. Bachelet called Ms. Roussef a "very good friend of mine" whom Ms. Bachelet frequently telephoned during the ordeal, she said.

"The Brazilian constitution permits that [impeachment].  I don't like what happened," and to applause:  "That's all I can say. It's easier to impeach a woman [than it is] a man."

Chili has good child care:  "The care of children is the responsibility of all society." 

"I think a country which cares about its people" cares about child care. "If Chile can do it, I think the U.S. can do it, of course," she said.
A woman said she was "mortified" by the treatment she believes Hillary Clinton receives from the press, and Ms. Bachelet agreed: "I am also 'mortified' by how the media has treated Hillary."

During her own run for the presidency, Ms. Bachelet said, "I was the 'fat one.'"

Women are perceived to be weak "because they don't shout or use," and she struggled for the English term, "swear words."

To applause from the mostly female audience, she said: "No one asks a man if he is capable."  

Yesterday was President Bachelet's 65th birthday.

Power to the prez!


Anonymous said...

Does she really think every woman in politics is absolutely perfect?

Patricia Leslie said...

She didn't say that. She said women don't have to be perfect, although some think they need to be.

Carla Danziger said...

Excellent report, reminding us once again of how many other countries are ahead of the US in electing women to their highest office.