U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has named former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to head a new U.N. agency dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of women. In announcing her appointment on Tuesday, Mr. Ban praised former President Bachelet's leadership qualities.

"Ms. Bachelet brings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, highly honed political skills, and uncommon ability to create consensus and focus among U.N. agencies and many partners in both the public and private sector," he said. "I am confident that under her strong leadership we can improve the lives of millions women and girls throughout the world."

The 59-year-old Ms. Bachelet is a trained physician and was the first female president of Chile, an office she held from 2006 until earlier this year.

During the 1973 military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power she was arrested, imprisoned and beaten. She then spent five years in exile before returning to Chile and rising through the ranks of the Socialist Party.

The agency she will head is known as U.N. Women. The U.N. General Assembly approved its creation last year.  It merges the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) into a single entity. It will have a start-up budget of $500 million.

Mr. Ban said the creation of U.N. Women has been one of his top priorities since taking the helm of the United Nations.

"Nearly four years ago I took office determined to see the merging of the four separate gender entities into one powerful, dynamic and effective entity. U.N. Women will promote the interest of women and girls across the globe," he said.

Mr. Ban pointed out that Ms. Bachelet was selected from a field of 26 distinguished candidates.  The agency has a target date of January next year to become fully operational.