Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we celebrate the enormous progress made by women throughout history. Yet, it is also a time where we reflect on the enormous discriminatory divide that disadvantaged women throughout that very history.
Thankfully, we have very few areas where we find no women leaders: whether it is corporate chief executives to country presidents to non-governmental organization heads.
Global multilateral development banks (MDBs) are perhaps the last bastion of male dominance – perhaps with the exception of the UN Secretary Generalship and the American Presidency.*
It is surprising that in their more than seventy year history, there is not a single woman president of any MDB.
Surveying the major nine MDBs – ranging from the World Bank to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to the African Development Bank – we find that 46 men have led those institutions, while no woman has been provided access. It was only recently, in their last elections where women contested – even then, only one or two women were in the candidate roster, which was again dominated by men.
This discriminatory trend prevails across regions and even in new institutions, like the BRICS led New Development Bank (NDB) or China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – so one cannot blame the ‘older, traditional, West’ dominated MDBs like the World Bank alone. Discrimination against women crosses cultures and regions (and religions as the case of IsDB shows) when it comes to MDBs.
With nearly $50 billion at their disposal, these banks hold the largest public investment opportunities for global development – an area, where research has shown that women’s empowerment has disproportionate impact across sectors: education, health, rural development. Yet, these banks deny women empowerment and an opportunity to lead at home- to say that’s ironic would be an understatement, it’s downright tragic!
This is an unacceptable state of affairs. We need the world to notice.
Member states – the shareholders of these banks – must direct their directors to ensure that they nominate able women: of which there are many, from CEOs (Indra Nooyi) to bankers and finance leads (Ngozi Okonja Iweala or Mulyani Indrawati) to philanthropists (Melinda Gates) and more, to lead MDBs.
In future MDB elections we hope that at least a few women candidates are on the roster, if not half as would be right given their proportion. States must have the courage to vote on candidates’ merits to enable the best and the brightest to lead these important institutions.
Member states must remember that within their territories, more often than not, women form the majority – and in increasing cases, these states are led by women. Paging Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, Angela Merkel, Sheikh Hasina…
We have previously called for an EMILY’s List equivalent advocacy group, maybe title it EASILY – Early Advocacy and Support Is Like Yeast – to ensure that women leaders are not blindsided by seemingly old boys’ backroom deals that continue to put men in charge of MDBs. There is an urgent need for such an institution to ensure that the next round of MDB elections are fair to women.
We hope that this International Women’s Day, we can start to begin the end of male dominance of MDBs: let’s shatter the glass ceiling for women in global MBD banking.
* We have highlighted this issue in a separate post, to advocate for women in MBD leadership, in the run up to the IFAD President election in 2016. It was heartening to see a few strong women candidates, but the outcome was a male winning, yet again – this is not to denigrate the achievement of IFAD’s President-elect, but it does carry on the historic discrimination against women in MDBs.