Bachelet: Today Chilean Girls Want To Be President

By Dialogo
May 15, 2009

Really great country had a fiscal surplus of nearly 10,000 million a year and want to save it and series of measures to stimulate the economy and to help the lowest classes. Michelle Bachelet, who has ten months remaining in her term of office and a popularity rating of 67% after a difficult start, is cheerful and convinced that her administration has opened the way for women: "The number of girls who now want to be President of Chile is impressive," she says. That is undoubtedly one of the most important issues of her administration, which began in March 2006, when for the first time in the history of Chile a woman became President, in the process breaking down a series of myths. "There has been a dramatic cultural change, which means that Chilean women feel very strongly that the world is open to them," said Bachelet at a meeting Wednesday with French media, after three years of a term of four, which she considers short. To illustrate this cultural change, the President recounted an anecdote: cheerfully warning that she has already told this story many times, Bachelet said that every time she visited a site when, before becoming President, she was Minister of Health, many girls approached her to say: "I want to be a doctor like you!" But "now they come and tell me: I want to be like you, I want to be President of Chile." The President acknowledges, however, that there are still issues to be resolved to improve the situation of women in Chile, including the wage gap between men and women and low female participation in politics. In fact, political representation of women in Chile is one of the lowest in Latin America; in the 38-member Senate there are only two women members, while in the House of Representatives 18 women were elected among its 120 seats. The situation in municipalities is similar. Of 345 town halls, only 45 are led by women. A bill to equalize wages between men and women and another that sets quotas for political participation were sent by Bachelet to Congress, but their passage has been slower than expected. But, she says, she continues to insist on both initiatives. Bachelet also is very optimistic because of the popularity she has achieved in recent months, along with a 67% approval rate, higher than that of any other President in the last 20 years. The situation represents a paradox because it succeeds in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in recent years, leading to the Chilean economy to shrink in 2009 for the first time in a decade. In contrast, at the beginning of her term of office, when the local economy was going through one of its best periods, Bachelet's popularity fell to its lowest level. Bachelet explains the phenomenon by the decision to save in times of prosperity. When the country had a fiscal surplus of nearly 10,000 million a year, she opted to save the surplus. "We made a government choice and defined a counter-cycle economic policy. When we had a lot of resources to reserve we saved some of these resources for the times when the economy was less stable," she said. "And the lean period came this year. The economy will shrink and the government must play its role," she said, acknowledging that this was not an easy decision. "Many, including the leader of the coalition, were extremely critical, but today everyone says how good it was. ... What a good idea. … fantastic," she said. The vast resources allowed Bachelet to launch a series of measures to stimulate the economy and to help the lowest classes. The largest took place in January, when it launched a 4-billion-dollar plan, equivalent to 2.8% of Chile's GDP.