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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The times they are a-changin’

    In this country, we are obsessed with equality. Endless analysis of the Founding Fathers’ inadequate definition, countered by the women’s rights movement then further challenged by the civil rights movement, kept us busy in high school. In college, the presence of female scholars and the proliferation of women’s rights groups (remember the vibrator raffle held on the UA Mall last semester?) reinforce not only the notion that women are everywhere, but that success based on merit, not gender, is absolutely possible.

    Hearing Gov. Janet Napolitano’s speeches or reading Maureen Dowd’s columns in The New York Times may seem mundane; in fact, you may not even consider the success of these women. Because Western society is so accustomed to the presence of women in almost all aspects of industry, it isn’t until a woman does something truly phenomenal that we stop and consider the impact of her accomplishment.

    When Michelle Bachelet was inaugurated as Chile’s president on March 11, she showed the world that women can ascend to the most powerful of posts. Moreover, as she appointed women to leadership in 50 percent of her regional ministries, she proved that equality can be enforced overnight.

    What make Bachelet’s victory curious are her personal qualities and the events prior to her rise to power.

    Bachelet’s life reads like a Hollywood screenplay:

    Our protagonist was confronted with a cruel test of character when she was jailed and tortured under military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s regime and then exiled, along with her mother, to Australia. Her father, who worked under former President Salvador Allende, was detained on the day of Pinochet’s coup under charges of “”betraying the nation.”” He died after being jailed and tortured. During her move to Berlin and her return to Chile, Bachelet became a doctor, studied military strategy in both the U.S. and Chile and became minister of health in 2000, then minister of defense in 2002 and, finally, the Socialist presidential candidate in 2004.

    Her status as a single mother and an agnostic in a famously Roman-Catholic society symbolizes the dramatic change forecasted by her leadership. It also gives the rest of the world hope that a revolution in political governance, in which credentials and integrity take precedence over forced continuity, is possible.

    Bachelet is the third woman to be elected head of state in Latin America. She follows Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua and Mireya Moscoso in Panama. However, unlike the previous women, she did not become known as a result of her husband’s prominence, and her political career is entirely of her own making. Bachelet’s victory proves that a powerful husband is not needed to achieve success and that a woman, using only her merit, is capable of beating down the doors of patriarchy and entering the political arena.

    According to Claudio Fuentes, director of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences based in Chile, many women registered and voted for the first time based solely on the fact that there was a woman candidate. That’s remarkable for Chile, where male dominance is still the order of the day and where women received the right to divorce their husbands only two years ago.

    So what should Chileans expect from Bachelet? If her activism in the Concertacion, the governing coalition to which she belongs, is any indication, the answer is a continued focus on economic growth and the dispersal of the benefits of that growth throughout society.

    But perhaps the most promising expectation was echoed by Bachelet in her victory speech last month: “”Because I was the victim of hatred, I have dedicated my life to reverse that hatred and turn it into understanding, tolerance and – why not say it – into love.””

    Spoken with the compassion of a mother and the sincerity of a woman.


    Yusra Tekbali is a junior majoring in journalism and Near Eastern studies. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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