Okonjo-Iweala, five other women who head international bodies


Sodiq Oyeleke with agency report

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday becomes one of the women leading international organisations after she was named the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

With this, she joined the select club of women chosen to head an international organisation, becoming the first female and first African chief of the World Trade Organization.


Former Minister of Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Nigeria’s first woman finance minister trained as a development economist – she has degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.

66-year-old Iweala spent a quarter of a century at the World Bank, rising to be managing director and running for the top role in 2012, and is seen as a trailblazer in her home country.

– Christine Lagarde: ECB –

France’s Lagarde took over the helm of the European Central Bank in 2019, having been named by EU leaders to serve an eight-year term and becoming the first woman to occupy the role since the ECB was launched in 1998.

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Lagarde was a corporate lawyer in the United States before becoming French finance minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, and then the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 2011-2019.

Okonjo-Iweala and Lagarde

According to a 2020 study by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) there are only 14 women heading the world’s 173 central banks.

In 2014 American Janet Yellen entered the history books in becoming the first woman chief of the powerful Federal Reserve, before being ousted by Donald Trump four years later. Following the election of Joe Biden she has become the first female Treasury Secretary.

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– Kristalina Georgieva: IMF –

Kristalina Georgieva
IMF boss, Kristalina Georgieva

Bulgaria’s Georgieva is the second woman, after Lagarde, to head the IMF. Named in 2019, the economist by training spent most of her career at the World Bank, before becoming its director general in 2017.

– Audrey Azoulay: UNESCO –

Image result for Audrey Azoulay
Audrey Azoulay

The former French culture minister became the second woman in late 2017 to head the UN cultural organisation UNESCO, after Irina Bokova, whom she succeeded. No woman, however, has ever headed the United Nations.

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– Ursula von der Leyen: European Commission –

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EU chief, Ursula von der Leyen

Germany’s von der Leyen took over in 2019 as European Commission President, the first woman to head the EU executive.

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At the German defence minister for nearly six years, she had been seen for a time as heir apparent to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had named her in each of her governments from 2005 to 2019.

– Winnie Byanyima: UNAIDS –

Image result for Winnie Byanyima

Uganda’s Byanyima was named in 2019 the first woman to head UNAIDS, which was created in 1995. She had previously headed Oxfam and was an official at the United Nations Development Programme.


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