Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria had an unusual road to her second office as President of Chile. Bachelet was originally elected to the presidency in 2006 becoming the first woman to serve as Chilean President. Following that original, and historic, term of office, she was appointed to serve as the first executive director of the newly created United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In 2014, she ran successfully for a second term. In addition to being the first woman president, she was also the first person to win the presidential election twice via competitive elections.
Bachelet was born in a middle class suburb of Santiago. Her family was a military one and young Michelle spent her childhood traveling all over Chile from military base to military base. In 1962, the family relocated to the US, returning to Chile in 1964. She attended the University of Chile, intending to study sociology or economics, but opted for her father’s choice that she study medicine.
Her early life was not without its challenges. In 1973, during the Chilean coup d’état, her father, a military official, was detained by government officials and accused of treason. With her mother, Bachelet was detained in their apartment by government officials. The two women were taken to a detention center in Santiago where they were separated and interrogated. Bachelet and her mother were later transferred to a different detention center and held for several months. She maintains that though she was tortured, it was “nothing in comparison to what others suffered”, but that she and her mother were, in fact, “threatened with the killing of the other.”
After spending four years in exile, the Bachelet family returned to Chile in 1979, where she graduated from medical school in 1983. She went on to work for the organization, Protection of Children Injured by States of Emergency Foundation, an agency created to help tortured and missing children in Santiago and Chillán. When Chile transitioned to democracy, Bachelet went to work for the Ministry of Health’s West Santiago Health Service and as a consultant for the Pan-American Health Organization and the World Health Organization.
Her political aspirations began during her university days, where she became a member of the Socialist Youth. She was also an active supporter of the Popular Unity political party. In 1995 she joined the party’s Central Committee, and in 1996 Bachelet ran for Mayor of wealthy Santiago suburb, and right-wing stronghold, Las Condes. Other political offices she held on the road to her historic presidencies include Minister of Defense, Minister of Health, and Minister of National Defense. As Minister of National Defense, she was instrumental in establishing a reform of the military pension system. She also engineered the modernization of the armed forces and the purchase of new military equipment.
Michelle Bachelet is an incredible woman. She is a woman who created history twice and has been instrumental is the shaping of Chile and one of the driving forces for its future. She’s an outstanding example of perseverance even in the face of torture. Women and girls have a lot to admire her for.