At Large

A woman leader in Apec

/ 12:07 AM November 10, 2015

MOST EYES will of course be focused on the leaders of the world’s biggest economies who will be taking part in the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit, to take place here Nov. 13-19.

US President Barack Obama and China’s Xi Jinping are expected to headline the meeting, which gathers 22 of the world’s leaders in talks—preceded by months’ worth of meetings among senior officials—on such concerns as innovation, trade, sustainability and disaster resilience.


This early, observers are already bestowing “rock star” status on Canada’s newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who with his relative youth, good looks and daring moves (convening a Cabinet that “looks like Canada” and includes a good number of women and an ethnically diverse composition) will surely be a compelling magnet for admirers and media attention.

Among the 22 visiting heads of state are two women: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and South Korea’s Park Geun-hye. Park is known as the daughter of a former Korean strongman, President Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated by his own intelligence chief for his allegedly authoritarian ways, but is credited with sparking South Korea’s speedy march to developed nation status. The daughter has since established a name for herself with her firm stance regarding her country’s relations with its communist neighbor, North Korea.


Like Park, Bachelet is the first woman president of her country, although she is currently serving a second term. Her personal and political history should provide more than enough material for a melodrama, not to mention an international espionage caper, perhaps along the lines of “The Bourne Identity,” if not a James Bond film.

Filipino women should know more about President Bachelet when she visits Miriam College on Nov. 17, as the special guest at a “Dialogue with Women and Youth” to be held at the Marian Auditorium. This early, she presents a compelling subject for contemplation and emulation in a world where women are seeking empowerment and a bigger role in managing the affairs of this troubled planet.

* * *

BUT first, some notes on the participation of women in government and leadership affairs. Some months ago, a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that 16 of its 34 member countries “are failing to meet a 30-percent benchmark of female representation” in parliament and in ministerial positions. These countries are not confined to those traditionally thought of as socially conservative or politically backward, but include the United States and the United Kingdom.

Reporting on the OECD findings, Time magazine noted that while “the number of female legislators has nearly doubled since 1995, women hold only 22.2 percent of parliamentary positions worldwide.”

Currently the “record holder” for the most number of women in parliament is Rwanda, where 63.8 percent of posts are held by women. Before 2003, when a quota for women representatives (one-third of the total) was set, the number of women in government there totaled a mere 4.3 percent.

In the matter of gender-fair representation in government, the Philippines has nothing to apologize for. We have had two women presidents and in the coming elections, we have two women senators running for president and a congresswoman running for vice president.


There are currently four women senators, with, as far as I know, three more women gunning for a Senate seat in next year’s elections. Women account for 25.6 percent of the total 234 representatives in the House, the highest number so far, though still below the minimum set at 30 percent.

The proportion of women governors, vice governors, and city/municipal mayors is lower, even if there are more women voters than men, as has been the case in most of the past elections.

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BACHELET’S story, though, is compelling beyond the mere citation of data and governments’ attempts at establishing gender balance in government.

Born in 1951 in Santiago, Chile, Bachelet was born to a family prominent in socialist politics, though she chose to pursue a medical career for herself.

Her parents were prominent supporters of the late Chilean and socialist president Salvador

Allende, so we can assume she was embroiled in youthful politics, too. But the Allende government soon fell to a military coup helped by the American CIA, and her father was arrested, tortured and killed. Bachelet and her mother were also arrested, and Bachelet tells of being blindfolded and kept tied to a chair for hours while being kept in an infamous prison. Fortunately, family friends interceded in their behalf and they were soon sent to exile in Australia and then Germany.

In 1979, the members of the Bachelet family returned to Chile and Bachelet was finally able to secure her medical degree. She had by then a son and a daughter by a fellow Chilean exile, but they soon separated and divorced. She has another daughter with a fellow physician.

* * *

A WOMAN of her talents and capability could not be ignored for long, and soon she was tapped by international NGOs to work for torture victims and later by the Chilean health department.

She then became increasingly active upon the normalization of the political situation in socialist politics, emerging as health minister in 2000 and then as defense minister (the first woman in Latin America) two years later. Bachelet would beat that record in 2006 when she emerged victorious in a runoff election for president of Chile where she won over 50 percent of votes.

Her story does not end there, and there is more to tell—from her career with the United Nations, her work with women, and her return to power in Chile. More on Michelle Bachelet tomorrow.

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