Michelle Bachelet announced Friday that she is quitting as head of the UN women's agency amid mounting speculation that she will stand for a new term as president of Chile in November elections.
Bachelet was the first head of UN Women when it was created in 2010. Before that she was head of state in Chile from 2006 to 2010.
Bachelet announced her departure from the UN at the end of a stormy two week meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. "Now a personal note. This will be my last CSW. I'm going back to my country," she told delegates.
The 61-year-old left-winger did not say what her future plans were but left wing parties in Chile hope Bachelet will be their candidate in this year's presidential election and polls indicate she would win the ballot.
Chile's first woman president, the trained pediatrician was one of the country's most popular leaders.
UN leader Ban Ki-Moon praised Bachelet's efforts to bring together several UN departments on women's affairs into a super-agency.
"I would like to express my tremendous gratitude for her outstanding service," Ban said in a statement.
"Her visionary leadership gave UN Women the dynamic start it needed. Her fearlessness in advocating for women's rights raised the global profile of this key issue. Her drive and compassion enabled her to mobilize and make a difference for millions of people across the world."
Ban said Bachelet's "record of achievement includes new steps to protect women and girls from violence, new advances on health, and a new understanding that women's empowerment must be at the core of all we do at the United Nations. This is a stellar legacy, and I am determined to build on it."
The Chilean was also praised by key UN member states.
"Bachelet has been a tenacious and inspirational leader and a role model for women everywhere," said US ambassador Susan Rice. "She is awesome."