In her first major trip since becoming head of the newly created UN Women, the United Nations’ agency for gender equality, Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet celebrated International Women’s Day today in Liberia, alongside the African country’s first female president. It was a joyous moment, with Bachelet taking part in local dances and visiting a market in the capital of Monrovia, but she also spoke to reporters about the serious and crucial issues that UN Women is tackling on behalf of half the world’s population.
With women making up only 19 percent of the heads of state and 76 percent of women reporting that they’ve been victims of violence, those issues range from educating women and developing them into leaders to ending violence against girls and women. She highlighted the value of women worldwide as both opposition fighters and post-violence negotiators and peacekeepers, and underlined the need to empower women economically. But she signaled the dire need to give women leadership skills to take on governments who historically ignore women’s needs. “Women are very important agents of peace and change,” she said, adding about her job: “I am full of hope, energy and commitment.”
Bachelet herself is a prime example of how high women can reach. She speaks five languages, and as Chile’s first female president, led the nation in some of the country’s most sweeping social reforms ever. When she left office in 2009 due to term limits, she had an unprecedented 80 percent approval rating.
She’s hardly alone as a Latina high-achiever.
Here are other Latina women who are uber-influential in their countries and beyond and who serve as an example of how much we have and can accomplish. Happy International Women’s Day!
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The daughter of immigrants from Nicaragua and Mexico and the first in her family to go to college despite a counselor’s assertion that she wasn’t “college material,” Solis became a California state legislator and later congresswoman who fought against domestic violence, and for education, labor and health care issues. As President Obama’s Secretary of Labor, she is the first Hispanic woman to serve in the cabinet.
This wise Latina inspired us like few have when she rose to the highest court in the land in 2009, the first Hispanic person to sit on the Supreme Court. The Bronx-born Ivy Leaguer, who was raised by a single mom after her dad died when she was 9, continues to be an inspiration for every Latina who’s ever wanted more for herself. The Bronx public housing development where she grew up was recently renamed after her, ensuring that generations of little Latinas will feel the same.
Marisela Morales Ibañez
Mexico’s fight against violent drug cartels often seems like a losing battle, but here’s one person who isn’t about to give up: As Assistant Attorney General for Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime, Morales has worked hard to bring down top narcotraficantes, since 2008.
Christina de Kirchner
Argentina’s first elected female president (Isabel Martinez de Peron took over as president when her husband Juan Peron died in office) may have had a powerful husband who preceeded her in office, but she stands on her own merits, weathering clashes with lobbyists, bankers and the media.
She takes on the repressive Cuban government every day on her blog, Generacion Y, and has paid the price for it: she was heavily beaten by government thugs last year and continues to be harassed for the power of her pen (or keyboard). But she’s also reaped worldwide acclaim for speaking out in a country where doing so has landed many in jail or worse: In addition to a journalism prize, this month she was awarded the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage Award.