Lagarde’s Victory: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

Christine Lagarde became the first female to head the IMF on July 5 2011. Since the IMF was established, it has been dominated by Europeans and men. Only six of 30 senior executives and 21.5 percent of all managers have been women, and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) control only 10.8 percent of IMF votes. In this context, Lagarde’s position in the IMF is a great victory for women, but it still leaves developing countries with little power.

If the position had gone to the Mexican central bank leader Agustin Cartens, who is also well qualified for the position, he could have brought in a new perspective to the organization. Today many in the developing world continue to be frustrated with the IMF’s structure since it doesn’t reflect the shifting power balance in the global economy. As the Latin America News Dispatch characterized the situation, “Carstens, who gained the backing Latin American nations like Chile and Peru as well as Australia and Canada, believes that emerging markets need to play a much larger role in setting the agenda of the IMF.”

I recently attended the National Organization for Women’s conference in Florida where participants debated the lack of female leaders. Female role models in positions of power could change this situation. Therefore Lagarde’s victory has given me a sense of hope that women can be as ambitious as men. Not only is she the first female leader of the IMF, but she is also the first non-economist to lead the IMF. One of her goals during her term is to increase the presence of developing countries in the organization. She has vowed to give China the third-strongest voice in the organization and to give more voice to countries like Brazil and South Korea.

Not only does she want to create more culture diversity but also gender diversity. Thus, she could bring a new sensibility to the IMF in terms of its policies toward women. She believes that a gender-dominated environment is not healthy. She often says that “too much testosterone” is a problem for the financial sector. Therefore, we can expect Lagarde to enhance women’s position and rights in the IMF.

Although Lagarde promises to diversify the organization, I still believe as a Ghanaian citizen that the position should have been given to a non-European, in particular a woman from a developing country.

One possible candidate is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the recently appointed finance minister of Nigeria and a former managing director of the World Bank. Okonjo-Iweala was notable for being the first female minister of finance and minister of foreign affairs under President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2003-2006. Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University and earned her Ph.D in regional economics and development from MIT. She helped Nigeria obtain its first sovereign debt rating and helping slash Nigeria’s debt by almost $30 billion. Today she is a role model for many Nigerians and Africans at large, in particular women, and the IMF would do well to consider her for its next leader.

Esther Ohrt is a Foreign Policy in Focus intern.