Senior African leaders at the UN are unhappy with media coverage of the first female boss of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The WTO this month announced officially the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as its new director-general.
The former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi will take over the role effective March 1, becoming the first woman and also African to lead the institution.
But reportage on her historic appointment has been criticised by African UN leaders who say “sexist and racist” language used in coverage of the appointment.
Members of the UN senior African group (Unsag) – including Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of UN Women, Winnie Byanyima, who leads UNAids, and Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa have expressed their concerns in a letter.
According to them the language used in some media to describe Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment was “offensive, sexist and racist in a world where both public and private sector leadership is dominated by ageing Caucasian men, who are revered for the experience and skills they bring and have never been characterised by their lineage and offspring”.
One headline in the Swiss daily newspaper Luzerner Zeitung originally read: “This grandmother will become the boss of the WTO.” The headline was later changed.
Mlambo-Ngcuka, co-chair of Unsag, told the Guardian that “There is a lot of prejudice against women in leadership that is just refusing to go away. We see it when it comes to female politicians or at grassroots level.”
“When men ascend [to power] at a later age, we celebrate their experience and accomplishments,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“No one talks about them as a grandfathers, it’s not a relevant talking point.”
Ngozi previously served as Nigeria’s finance minister on two occasions and once as a foreign affairs minister.
The 66-year old also served as former managing director of the World Bank and as a chairperson at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.
Shortly after her appointment she was is ready to tackle the challenges of the institution.
She said “In the 73 years of GATT and WTO, honored to be First Woman and First African to lead.
But now the real work begins. Ready to tackle the challenges of WTO. Forget Business as usual!”
It is done! Thank you @WTO members for finalizing my election today and making history. In the 73 years of GATT and WTO, honored to be First Woman and First African to lead. But now the real work begins. Ready to tackle the challenges of WTO. Forget Business as usual! pic.twitter.com/apnAalHWf5
— Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (@NOIweala) February 15, 2021