Today, as we celebrate another International Women’s Day, we again call on global Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) to elect women leaders.
Until 2020, MDBs were the last bastion of male dominance – only men led the MDBs throughout history; a sorry state of affairs considering that MDBs have been around for 70 years.
Continuing our survey of the major nine MDBs – ranging from the World Bank to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to the African Development Bank – we find that 49 men have led those institutions, with 3 new men Presidents since our last 2017, while only one woman was elected President since.
The Board of Governors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) elected Odile Renaud-Basso, a director-general of the French Treasury, as President in 2020. This was a historic event and we applaud the EBRD Board for their electoral choice.
EBRD has bucked a discriminatory trend that prevails across regions and even in new institutions, like the BRICS led New Development Bank (NDB) or China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). As we said earlier, we 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.
Multilateral Development Bank Presidencies: A slow cracking glass ceiling for women (49 men; 1 woman)
The EBRD Board is represented by the same countries that have majority share holding rights in most MDBs – global and regional. So, it is time that in the next round of elections around 2025, the member countries who lead share holding ensure that institutions like the World Bank, Inter-American, Asian and African Development Banks also gain women leaders.
If anyone asks how many women presidents we need, we would echo what Justice Ginsburg said in another context – all nine need to be led by women leaders. After all nine men led these institutions over 70 odd years.
MDBs hold the largest public investment opportunities for global development, with billions of dollars in funding. Research shows that women’s empowerment has disproportionate impact across development sectors: education, health, agriculture. Yet, these banks deny women empowerment and an opportunity to lead at home. We repeat again that this is not just ironic but downright tragic!
This is an unacceptable state of affairs. We need the world to notice. We cannot have the 2025 election cycle go by in vain.
Member states – the shareholders of these banks – must direct their directors to ensure that they nominate able women: of which there are many, from to bankers and finance leads to philanthropists and more, to lead MDBs.
Major economies of the world, particularly the US with a veto share-holding right in most MDBs, can encourage women’s leadership by nominating and supporting women leaders. The Biden -Harris administration has a historically diverse cabinet. and its appointment of women as USAID and MCC leaders (the latter being the first woman CEO of MCC), shows a commitment to have women leaders in global development. This commitment must be translated into action on the MDB front as well.
Secretary Yellen, the first woman Treasury Secretary, is responsible for most of the American supported nominations to MDBs. She should lead the call to have at least 50 percent women presidential nominations to ensure fair elections.
All states must have the courage to vote on candidates’ merits to enable the best and the brightest to lead these important institutions. For too many years, and in too many instances, by ignoring 50 percent of the candidate pool, member states have failed in their duty to help elect the ablest to MDB leadership.
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.
We hope that this International Women’s Day, we can start a movement to have a faster cracking glass ceiling in global MDB leadership – in 2025 we hope that at least 4 other elected MDB presidents are women; we pray for 9.
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