Remarks of Michelle Bachelet, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women at the Gabriela Mistral Foundation Annual Dinner,New York Athletic Club, Friday, 23 March 2012.
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Ambassador Heraldo Munoz,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank you very much for this honour.
Five years ago as the President of Chile I inaugurated the Gabriela Mistral Foundation. Today as the Executive Director of UN Women I receive this honour on behalf of all the women who stood up before me and continue to stand up for what they believe in. Tonight we stand in good company as we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Gabriela Mistral Foundation.
Gabriela Mistral was much more than a woman of words. She was a woman who took sides. Famous and beloved during her lifetime all over Latin America and Europe, she was a woman who was led by her ideals; she believed in the power of women, in freedom, in social justice, and the independence of peoples. She stood up for what she believed in.
Today women in all parts of the world continue to rise up and speak out for freedom, democracy and equality. I have had the privilege to meet many of them as I lead the newest agency of the United Nations, UN Women.
From high school students in Morocco speaking with hope about their future, to women in Libya organizing to chart the future of their country for the first time after 30 years of authoritarian rule, to the young people in Uruguay organizing to end violence against women, to the women police in Liberia working to end impunity and bring justice to women, families and communities.
UN Women was created to deliver on a promise inscribed more than 60 years ago in the United Nations Charter, to ensure the equal rights of men and women. To do this we have so many wonderful partners around the world. We move forward together on the path of those who walked before us, women like Gabriela Mistral.
She was a school teacher, a college professor, a poet, a winner of the Nobel Prize, a member of the cultural committee of the League of Nations, and Chilean consul to Madrid, Lisbon, Nice, and Naples. She was as vast as the ocean.
As an educator and advocate, she strongly believed in education as a tool for change, for children and for women. She believed in liberty, literacy and literature, as a way to connect to each other as human beings and to advance our common humanity.
Gabriela Mistral put her stamp on several Latin American countries. She always stood up for those who were powerless. Through her example, she gave hope, and opened opportunities for many women—women who were discriminated against, women who were marginalized in decision-making, women who were denied the world of work and even control over their own lives.
As she campaigned for justice, Gabriela combined her educational ministry with her poetic talent to influence those she visited. She was a crusader for social and educational reform and for mandatory primary education in Chile. In 1922 she was able to further her influence in Mexico, where upon the invitation of Jose Vasconcelos, she helped enhance the Mexican government’s attempts at reform of their educational system.
As a writer, as an educator, as a diplomat, Gabriela Mistral gave much thought and worked hard for equality. Before her death she continued to call for “equality of wages from the city to the last mountain hiding place of the earth.” One can imagine her saying that from here in New York City to the small Andean village where she was raised in Montegrande, Chile.
I have visited her home and it was so modest, so small with just two or three rooms. And yet from this humble background emerged a woman leader who was fully engaged in work that needed to be done at the moment, and also very much ahead of her time. Gabriela emerged from hardship but she was fortunate because she had family members who supported her and encouraged her to grow to reach her potential.
Just imagine how many Gabrielas there are in our world today. Gabrielas who live in rural areas with few resources, Gabrielas who live in urban slums with little support, Gabrielas who dream of a better future but whose dreams are never nurtured, never acknowledged, whose dreams remain in the shadows and darkness of the night.
Today, as I receive this honour, I pledge that I will continue to stand up for all Gabrielas, for all women and girls so their dreams can come to light. I will stand up for universal education, for democracy, for human rights, and for justice and equality. On behalf of UN Women, I will continue to stand up for women’s equal rights, opportunity and participation, for women’s leadership in politics and peacebuilding and for economic empowerment, and for ending the horrible violence that is committed against women and girls.
I believe, as did Gabriela, that the social, educational and economic development of a nation, and that democracy and peace grow stronger with the full and equal participation of women.
I will now leave you with the words of Gabriela, words that were spoken nearly 100 years ago: “Las mujeres formamos un hemisferio humano. Toda Ley, todo movimiento de libertad o de cultura, nos ha dejado por largo tiempo en la sombra. Mas sabia en su inconsciencia, la naturaleza pone su luz sobre los dos flancos del planeta. Y es Ley infecunda toda ley encaminada a transformar pueblos y que no toma en cuenta a las mujeres”.
“The women form a human hemisphere. Every law, every movement for freedom or culture, has left us for a long time in the shade. Wiser in her unconsciousness, nature puts light on both sides of the planet. And it is an infertile law every law that tries to move and transform people without taking into account women.”