The case for a feminist World Bank President

Calls are increasing for a first female World Bank President in the current Bank presidential selection that happens every five years. A female Bank President would symbolize the increasing power of women. But a woman President alone will not be enough to right the Bank.

The same can be said for a feminist President although s/he likely would laudably promote Bank policies and investments that equally benefit men and women.  S/he likely would strive to eradicate remaining patriarchal mindsets among some Bank staff and Board members.

Without doubt women’s rights and gender diversity promoters, myself among them, believe the Bank should select a feminist non-American President, preferably a woman of color.  The American male monopoly on the Bank’s top job must end.  The Bank’s non-democratic presidential selection process must end.  The US, the largest Bank shareholder, has hand-picked all 12 past presidents, every one of them an American male.

A New Bank Development Model

Not only should the World Bank have a first feminist President, but even more importantly for achieving the Bank goals of poverty reduction and shared prosperity, its next President must radically transform the Bank’s development model.

Many of the Bank’s current projects are large-scale polluting infrastructure investments that are contributing to our planet’s climate destruction.  These projects usually harm rather than benefit women, men, girls and boys.

Bank leaders have talked the talk on gender diversity and climate change but its policies and investments often do not reflect the talk.  Watchdog reports documenting women’s rights violations in Bank-funded projects include: forced labor by pregnant women in agriculture projects such as in Uzbekistan; project highway construction workers sexually assaulting and impregnating school girls such as in Uganda; and forced homelessness of city slum dwellers and farmers alike whose homes are bulldozed, causing women and girls to turn to sex work to survive such as in Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Georgia, Nigeria, Togo, and other countries.

The Bank’s first feminist President must end this pattern of investments that harm vulnerable women and girls and impoverish communities.

Despite the Bank’s widely-publicized commitment to do its part in combatting climate change, the Bank’s new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) approved by its Board in August 2016 weakens its longstanding environmental and social safeguards protecting communities from harm.  The ESF will harm everyone but particularly women in low-income countries who depend on forest products and other natural resources for medicine, food and fuel, carry water long distances, and do most farming (an estimated 70 to 80 percent of African farmers are women).  The ESF hardly mentions gender, women and LGBT groups.  It fails to include a freestanding gender safeguard to protect women, girls, men and boys from detrimental impacts.  It guts the Bank’s environmental safeguard policies, which sheltered forests, land, water, biodiversity and indigenous peoples from the negative consequences of forced resettlement and polluting infrastructure investments.

President Jim Kim failed to keep his promise that the ESF would not dilute existing standards.

The first feminist Bank President must ensure that Bank projects stop clearing tropical rain forests for biofuel export crops that dispossess poor farmers, mostly women, of land; halt oil, gas and coal investments that eliminate women’s farming livelihoods and force some women and girls into sex work to survive; and end investments in big dams by instead supporting small local renewable energy sources.

The first feminist Bank President must ensure that the Bank adheres to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other international human rights treaties ratified by the overwhelming majority of member countries.

Selection Process

In 2011 the Bank Board initiated a presidential nomination process by establishing merit-based selection criteria.  Nevertheless the US prevailed in installing Jim Kim in 2012 despite competing Colombian and Nigerian candidates of at least Kim’s caliber.  Now that Kim is serving his final year of a five-year appointment, the Bank Board launched a three week Presidential nomination period that will close on September 14, 2016.  The US has already weighed in for a second Kim term.  As Eurodad’s Jesse Griffiths stated on this website, three weeks is an unreasonably short nomination period.  The US is likely to prevail with a second Kim term unless the nomination period is extended, the selection process becomes transparent, and the voices of key stakeholders — including most Bank staff, global civil society leaders, major media and think tanks — calling for Kim to resign, are heeded.

Stakeholders, reach out to your World Bank Executive Director and/or Ministry of Finance to demand an extended selection process and nominate feminist changemaker candidates from developing countries!

This entry was posted in Archive - previous races, Candidates, Uncategorized by Elaine Zuckerman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Elaine Zuckerman

Gender Action represents Elaine Zuckerman's life, work and passion to ensure social justice, and equal rights and opportunities for women and men. Elaine joined the World Bank when she heard that China was becoming a borrowing member in 1980 and worked there as an economist on China. This preceded the advent of structural adjustment loans (SALs) and protests against the Bank. Witnessing the unfolding of structural adjustment, in 1987 she created the Bank's first program to globally mitigate SALs' harmful impacts on the poor, especially on women. Later she worked in the World Bank's gender unit where she had an opportunity to analyze Bank investments around the world across sectors. She was struck by the paucity of Bank operations that try to empower women despite Bank rhetoric and studies expressing the urgency to do so in order to reduce poverty. In the 1990s at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Elaine designed a strategy for the Amazon that prohibited future investments in roads and ranching that damaged indigenous groups and the environment, and instead promoted health, water, education and renewable resources. She was also Coordinator of the IADB's Social Agenda Policy Group which promoted equitable education and health financing for all men and women, girls and boys. For more, see

One thought on “The case for a feminist World Bank President

  1. This posting provides a powerful message for anyone who stands for inclusive, sustainable development–development that benefits everyone rather than the very few.

    Projects in sectors like agribusiness, petroleum, and hydropower among others, have disproportionate impacts on women, as well as children and other marginalized groups. Women are often the least likely to be consulted about a project that will impact their livelihoods. Yet they bare the brunt of impacts such as denial of access to water, food security threats, and physical and sexual abuse. It is therefore imperative that the voices of women are heard throughout the development process so that those in leadership, who have the power to stop abuses and make change, respect women’s rights and needs.

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