EFESantiago

President Michelle Bachelet on Friday appointed Claudia Pascual as Chile's first minister of Women and Gender Equality.

The ministry was formally inaugurated Wednesday, replacing the National Women's Service, headed by Pascual since Bachelet took office in March 2014.

Bachelet said the new ministry will strengthen efforts against gender violence in Chile, where 16 women have been murdered this year.

"In recent weeks, we have learned about brutal attacks on women," she said, referring to the case of Nabila Rifo, a 28-year-old woman who somehow survived an attack in which she lost both eyes and suffered other grave injuries.

The new ministry will work to toughen Chile's current legislation on gender violence, something Bachelet promised last month in her annual report to Congress.

Pascual, a Communist, is the most popular member of Bachelet's Cabinet, posting an approval rate of 73 percent in a poll conducted last month by survey firm Adimark.