Swiss media company apologizes for ‘sexist and racist’ coverage of EJS Center Board Member and Director-General of the WTO Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

A Swiss media company has issued an apology after complaints by a group of senior African and women figures at the United Nations, 124 Geneva-based ambassadors, and its readers that reports on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization were “offensive, sexist and racist.” 

In a petition and a letter, objections were raised to a headline in three newspapers owned by CH Media which read: “This grandmother will become the boss of the WTO.”

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala—who is a Board Member of the EJS Center—is the first woman and the first African to hold the position. She previously served as Finance Minister of Nigeria and former Managing Director of the World Bank.

The Guardian reported that the letter said the language in the headline was: 

“…offensive, sexist and racist in a world where both public and private sector leadership is dominated by ageing Caucasian men, who are revered for the experience and skills they bring and have never been characterized by their lineage and offspring.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, said:

“There is a lot of prejudice against women in leadership that is just refusing to go away. We see it when it comes to female politicians or at grassroots level… When men ascend at a later age, we celebrate their experience and accomplishments… No one talks about them as grandfathers, it’s not a relevant talking point.”

In addition to Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, signatories of the petition included Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Dr. Byanyima and Dr. Songwe are also Amujae Coaches in the EJS Center’s Amujae Initiative.

The three outlets in question—Luzerner Zeitung, St. Galler Tagblatt, and Aargauer Zeitung—later changed the headlines in their online editions. The apology, written by CH Media’s Foreign Editor-in-Chief, regretted that the headline was “inappropriate and unsuitable.”

In a tweet, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala wrote: 

“I’m thankful to all my sisters, UN Women Leaders and the 124 Ambassadors in Geneva who signed the petition on calling out the racist & sexist remarks in this newspaper. It is important & timely that they’ve apologized… We need to call out this behavior when it happens.” 

Read more in The Guardian.

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