Women leaders sidelined at multilateral organizations, new study shows

Reuters | March 7, 2023

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By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Women have held just 12% of the top jobs at 33 of the biggest multilateral institutions since 1945, and more than a third of those bodies, including all four large development banks, have never been led by a woman, a new study released on Monday shows.

Five of the bodies have only had a woman president once in their history, and that includes the current head of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, according to the report prepared by GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion, an advocacy group made up of 62 current and former senior women leaders.

The study, to be released during this week’s meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, called for proportional representation of women at every level of multilateral organizations, from field offices to headquarters, as well as in secretariats and governing bodies.

“The truth is that numbers matter,” said Maria Fernanda Espinosa, a former Ecuadorian foreign minister who served as president of the U.N. General Assembly from 2018-2019.

“We are 50% of the world’s population so it’s a demographic justice thing, to start with,” she told Reuters in an interview on Friday. “But I also believe that women bring this combination of leadership, wisdom and empathy, and sometimes, an even greater understanding of what is happening in the world.”

Since 1945, the 33 institutions studied have had 382 leaders, but only 47 were women, the report showed. And despite recent progress, only one-third of the institutions are currently headed by women.

GWL Voices said it would release a more extensive version of the report in September that would also look at the senior management teams and governing bodies of the 33 institutions. It said it was pushing for governance reforms that could “accelerate the transition to gender-balanced leadership.”

The report listed 13 institutions that have never been headed by a woman since the end of World War Two, when most of these bodies were created, including the World Bank, the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Espinosa said it was disappointing that the United States, which is the largest shareholder in the World Bank and has historically picked its president, last month nominated a man, former Mastercard Chief Executive Ajay Banga, for the job, despite urgent calls from her group and other World Bank member states to chose a female leader.

Espinosa said she supported having someone like Banga, who was born and educated in India and spent much of his early career there, at the helm of the World Bank, but there were hundreds of women with similar background and qualifications.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)