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LOOKING FORWARD: Michelle Bachelet, Chile

Michelle Bachelet had the markings of a doomed political package. "I was a woman, separated, a socialist, an agnostic," she said. "All possible sins together."

And yet, the determined doctor became the president of Chile — Catholic, conservative and patriarchal — in 2006. Chileans simply gravitated to the woman who could lead them away from a violent past.

In 1973 Bachelet's father was imprisoned under charges of treason after General August Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government to begin a 16-year dictatorship. Her father died of a heart attack in his prison cell in 1974. Bachelet and her mother were also interrogated, beaten and tortured.

"Violence entered my life, destroying what I loved," Bachelet said during her Presidential victory speech: "Because I was a victim of hate, I have dedicated my life to turn that hate into understanding, into tolerance and, why not say it, into love."

This tender, forgiving persona won over voters. Being brilliant didn't hurt either. Bachelet, who speaks five languages, was a surgeon, pediatrician and epidemiologist before joining the Chilean Ministry of Health. A graduate of the War Academy of the Chilean Army, Bachelet served as Defense Minister, too.

As president, her leadership produced results: the government built 3,500 daycare centers for poorer children, giving mothers more freedom to enter the labor market. She extended free health care to cover many serious conditions and pushed through a law designed to bridge the wage gap between men and women. Those accomplishments helped propel Bachelet into a global role — the first head of UN Women — last year. Her newest campaign: raise the profile of challenges facing women and girls around the globe. Bachelet's leadership in Chile should give them hope. When Bachelet's term ended in 2010, not even an 8.8 magnitude earthquake that displaced more than 2 million people could put a dint in her approval ratings.3 They continued to hover at 80 percent.


Who could have thought twenty, ten or five years ago that Chile would elect a woman to be president?

- Michelle Bachelet

SOURCES: 1 Hillary Clinton, Tribute, Time Magazine, 2008. 2 Estrada, Daniela, IPS Inter Press Service, Sept. 14, 2010. 3 Franklin, Jonathan, "Chile reels in the aftermath of quake," Washington Post, March 1, 2010. 4 Planet Rulers, Photo Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

© UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras