Ngozi Okonjo was appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organization; the first woman and representative of the global south.
Ngozi Okonjo was appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organization; the first woman and representative of the global south. She will have to regain credibility, performance, and inclusion in a context of global economic crisis.
For the first time, a woman was selected for the highest position in an institution in a male-dominated environment. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will assume the leadership to restore the credibility and performance of the World Trade Organization (WTO) from March 1, 2021, after the first process in which 3 women participated out of 8 candidates. In addition to being the first woman to lead this organization, she is also the first African to reach this position. How was the process of her arrival? Does she represent the global south? What challenges await her?
Following her election on January 15, 2021, multiple media have based their headlines on the fact that she is the first woman director of the WTO, having to describe and justify why she arrived there as a woman; another example of inequality that permeates our structures. Courage, strong character, transparent trajectory, among others, are the characteristics that she is attributed to stand out. The lack of representation of women in the roles that make up global governance makes this news promising for those women who aspire to positions of power, but also for those who come from forgotten continents.
Okonjo-Iweala is an economist from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Economics and Regional Development from MIT with a brilliant career. Although she represents Nigeria, part of the so-called "developing" countries, her career and her education have made her part of the developed West. She has held the position of "the first woman in" several times, for example, the prime minister of finance or minister of foreign affairs of Nigeria. In addition to this work experience in her country, she has been internationally recognized as Managing Director of the World Bank and President of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance.
The speeches of the new Director-General highlight the need for a strong WTO, considering the importance of acting collectively towards an inclusive trading system prepared to overcome crises. This means that the main challenges for the organization will not only be to address the negotiations in the increasing complexity of a multipolar trading system, full of anti-liberalizing behaviors, or to manage the tensions between the United States and China. A WTO is required with a prominent role in tackling the pandemic, guaranteeing access and equity to vaccines.
She takes office at a significant time for International Organizations (IOs) due to the global economic context, but also due to female leadership trends. More than 50% of the top 30 IOs have never considered women as leaders. While 291 former leaders were men, only 33 were women, mainly from Europe and North America. Most of these women have held positions after 2010. Before the 2000s, only 5 women participated. Regarding trade organizations, only the International Trade Center (ITC) has had two women leaders; the WTO and UNCTAD have not yet followed this path.
Although women are popularly falsely associated with creating conflict, statistics indicate that, during crises, corporations tend to hire women to take on leadership roles. This is due to their performance in terms of direction, accountability, coordination and control, external orientation, leadership team, innovation, skills, motivation, work environment and values. While studies show that men are good at individualistic decision-making, control, and corrective action; women are excellent at developing people, expectations and rewards, role models, inspiration, participatory decision making, intellectual stimulation, and efficient communication. Hopefully, this is reflected in Okonjo's management and she can have an exercise free of prejudices and disadvantages.
Faced with a capitalist system full of inequalities and injustices, it is better to have rules that limit it, and much better if women also participate in its design, execution and monitoring.