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Bachelet Says Chile Needs Rules to Boost Women Lawmakers

Michelle Bachelet Speaks at the Rio+20 Conference
The Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet speaks during a press conference on June 18, 2012, in the sidelines of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photographer: Andre Durao/AFP/Getty Images

Chile should bring in “transitional measures” to boost the number of female lawmakers, said former President Michelle Bachelet, who heads the United Nations body charged with empowering women.

Citing the examples of Ecuador and Tunisia, where parties are required to provide electoral lists that alternate male and female candidates, Bachelet said Chile and nations elsewhere in Latin America should use temporary measures like that to ensure more women are elected to parliament.

“Chile needs special transitional measures that will increase women’s political participation,” Bachelet said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro, where she’s attending the UN’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development. “If we really want more female participation in politics, you need to ensure that electoral laws are the right ones.”

Worldwide, fewer than one in five lawmakers are women, and there are 17 or 18 female heads of state out of the UN’s 194 members, according to Bachelet. She served as Chile’s first female president from 2006 to 2010 and ensured her 22-member cabinet was split evenly between the sexes. About 14 percent of Chilean lawmakers are women, according to the UN.

She declined to comment on whether she would stand again for the Chilean presidency, saying only that she’s “fully dedicated to UN Women.”

Bachelet also said that women bring a different perspective to decision-making, and parliaments with more female lawmakers tend to pass more laws on social and environmental issues. Measures to boost their participation in parliament should only be long enough to eliminate inequality, she said.

Barriers to Women

“Democracy is not only about voting, it’s about being elected,” Bachelet said. “If we want to unleash the full potential of humanity, women’s potential should also be unleashed.”

One of the biggest barriers to women in politics is their traditional role as caregivers and public attitudes to women in the public sphere, according to the UN diplomat.

“In the majority of countries, the economy of care is the biggest obstacle: care for children, care for the disabled, care for the elderly falls on women’s shoulders,” Bachelet said. “Women have to make very difficult choices between the family and the public sphere -- professional work and politics. Usually they are punished by society and criticized if they abandon the family and are dedicated to public affairs.”

About 50,000 delegates from 190 nations are expected to attend the Rio+20 meeting, marking 20 years since the first Earth Summit in the city. Leaders from 130 nations are set to rubber-stamp 49 pages of recommendations charting a path to cut poverty while promoting growth and protecting the environment.

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