Bachelet Blazes the Trail for Women in Chile

When I was in Chile, I heard and wrote about the candidate for president, Michelle Bachelet. Today Bloomberg has the story of her victory and new role as first woman preident of Chile.

Bachelet will take office more than three decades after, as a 23-year-old medical student, she was arrested and tortured during the dictatorship. Her father, a general, died in jail less than a year earlier after being tortured on suspicion he opposed the 1973 military coup.

“You know, I haven’t had an easy life,” Bachelet said yesterday. “Violence entered into my life, destroying what I loved. Because I was a victim of hate, I have devoted my life to reverse that hate.”

She said her experiences influenced her to study defense policy. In 2002, she became defense minister, the first woman to hold that post in Chile.

As defense minister, Bachelet told military commanders assembled before their new chief that she was a woman, a socialist, separated, and agnostic, “all the sins together,” Bachelet joked at a news conference in November.

Support from Women

Bachelet, a trained pediatrician with three children, is separated from her husband. She won support from women who identified with her background, said Patricio Valdivieso, a professor at the Pontific Catholic University of Chile.

“She’s a regular woman,” said Carolina Cruz, a computer programmer, who said she voted for Bachelet. “She’ll have to fight down sexists.”

Juan Lindau, a professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, said that Bachelet’s career suggests she “has become extraordinarily adept at handling sexism, given her long career in the still largely male political world of Chile.”

`Greater Scrutiny’

Bachelet will “face greater scrutiny because of her gender and will consequently need a strong first year in office,” Lindau said.