UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday to head a new U.N. body that will seek to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.
The body will be known officially as the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, but officials say it will be referred to as U.N. Women (www.unwomen.org).
The General Assembly voted in July, after years of difficult negotiations, to set up the entity, which will merge four separate U.N. divisions now dealing with women's and gender issues.
"Ms. Bachelet brings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, highly honed political skills and uncommon ability to create consensus," Ban said in a statement to media.
"I am confident that under her strong leadership we can improves the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world."
Bachelet, 58, headed a center-left administration in Chile from 2006 until March of this year, when she was replaced by conservative Sebastian Pinera. Last year, Forbes magazine rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world.
Bachelet, who attended two years of high school in the United States, was arrested in Chile in 1975 along with her mother by the rightist military junta that took over the country in a 1973 coup. Exiled to Australia, she later moved to former East Germany before returning in 1979 to Chile where she studied medicine, specializing in pediatrics.
Ban told reporters that 26 candidates had been considered to head the women's entity, but diplomats said Bachelet had been a front-runner from the start.
Ban has often spoken of his policy of promoting women's causes and the selection of Bachelet follows his appointment earlier this year of Margot Wallstrom of Sweden as his first-ever special representative on sexual violence in conflict.
U.N. diplomats said four years of negotiations on the new women's entity between Western developed nations and developing countries had been tough because of varying views on women's rights and gender equality.
U.N. Women will focus on supporting inter-government bodies like the Commission on the Status of Women and ensuring that all U.N. agencies and organizations live up to their commitments to gender equality, the United Nations says.
U.N. Women will become fully operational on January 1, 2011.
Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Eric Beech