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WTO Chief Okonjo-Iweala welcomes apology from Swiss newspaper for ‘racist and sexist’ headline


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has started work despite racist comments by some newspapers


Kampala, Uganda  | Ronald Musoke | Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has welcomed an apology from Aargauer Zeitung a Swiss publication which on Feb.09 published a story about her with what online readers referred to as “a racist and sexist headline.”

The distasteful headline, “This grandmother will be the new chief of the World Trade Organization,” also appeared in  Aargauer Zeitung’s online edition and was republished in two other Swiss newspapers;   Luzerner Zeitung and St. Galler Tagblatt.

“I am thankful to all my sisters, UN women leaders and the 124 ambassadors in Geneva who signed the petition on calling out the racist and sexist remarks in this newspaper,” she said in a short statement published on her Facebook page on March 01.

“It is important and timely that they have apologized. We need to call out this behaviour when it happens,” she said.

Samuel Schumacher, Aargauer Zeitung’s Foreign Editor-in-Chief went into detail to explain the irresponsible headline which caused an online backlash for the publication.

“This headline was inappropriate and unsuitable. We apologize for this editorial mistake,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher exonerated the publication’s journalist who wrote the story. He explained that their Geneva-based correspondent did not write the headline.

“In our editorial office; we gave the article about the new head of the World Trade organization the headline,” he said, “The author of the article, Jan Dirk Herbermann, did not write this headline (and) we did not inform Mr. Herbermann about the headline.”

“Therefore Mr. Herbermann is not in any way responsible for this headline. Mr. Herbermann is our correspondent in Geneva and had filed us the article for publication.”  The original headline that Mr. Herbermann drafted read: “For the first time an African woman moves to the top of the WTO.”

Okonjo-Iweala said what the Swiss publication had done is what her book “Women and Leadership” co-authored with Julia Gillard talks about— the stereotypes women face when they take on leadership positions.

On Feb.15, the General Council of the World Trade Organization agreed by consensus to select Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 66, as the organization’s seventh Director General. Okonjo-Iweala is a Harvard-educated development economist. Her term which is renewable will expire on Aug.31, 2025.

One comment

  1. Not only was the headline racist and sexist, but it was also ageist. Ageism is also discrimination against someone on account of age. It is good that they apologized. However, they also deserve some condemnation. The people who wrote and published the headline should attend an anti-racism class at a university taught by an African or a Black professor. They should also study books and articles on anti-racism or anti-Black racism.

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