Scandal turns into opportunity for first female IMF chief

Photo of Christine LagardeIt was announced yesterday that French finance minister Christine Lagarde has been chosen to lead the International Monetary Fund after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign after his arrest for sexual assault.

Until the US announced it’s support for Lagarde yesterday morning, it was unclear whether she or Mexican central bank governor Agustin Carstens would be the pick.

It’s a huge step for a woman to be chosen to lead such a prominent economic player in the world economy. Economics continues to be a field dominated by men, and the vote of confidence given to Lagarde by this appointment demonstrates the impact feminism has had internationally.

About Lagarde:

France’s Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund after winning crucial US backing, has made a career of breaking glass ceilings. The silver-haired and silver-tongued finance minister skipped a French establishment career after getting her law degree and instead joined the Paris office of prestigious US legal consulting giant Baker & McKenzie.

Over 18 years she pushed her way up to become chairwoman of the company’s global executive committee in 1999, a first for the firm, and then of its global strategy committee in 2004. Then in 2007 she became France’s and the G7’s first female finance minister, earning a reputation for grace under fire during the global economic crisis.

But as we’ve quickly learned with the ascent of women in politics and government, a woman in power does not guarantee a leader who prioritizes the needs of women. The role and work of the IMF is complicated and we’ll have to wait and see what impact Lagarde has on it’s overall direction.

Photo via

Join the Conversation

  • nicolechat

    I can appreciate that the first woman heading a major international financial institution is a big deal, but is there anything to celebrate here other than her womanhood? Has she ever demonstrated any pro-woman, or even pro-worker, leanings as she’s risen through the ranks of her career? The IMF has a horrible track record for workers and, in many countries, that means young women have few options other than exploitative underground sex work or sweatshop-type assembly line labour. The IMF’s policies have kept many women worldwide in poverty – many men and children, too, but in some countries women workers are disproportionately affected by the free-market rules that keep sweatshops open and workers non-unionized in areas where unions are desperately needed.

    As you say, we’ll have to see how the game changes under a new director – but thus far, the IMF does not have a glowing reputation for women’s rights.

    • cycomatto

      Right on, nicolechat.

      But no, there is nothing to celebrate here, not even her womanhood. Certainly, we don’t consider an increase in the number of women committing crimes and aiding in pillaging and oppression of middle- and lower-class people in developed and developing countries to be a cause for celebration. We shouldn’t even consider it to be progress, or even an indication thereof. At best, it should be regarded as an unfortunate byproduct of the true successes of feminism.

      • honeybee

        Having a woman as head of the IMF is an ‘unfortunate bi-product of feminism’? I’m speechless.

        I for one think this is a big step forward, regardless of her politics. Young women everywhere will see Christine and know that they too can reach for the top and succeed. It certainly inspires me.

        • cycomatto

          Disregarding the context in which an event takes place is the very heart of what may be called Fox-News-analysis. It often leads to, among other things, contradictions.

          In this case, considering Lagarde’s selection “regardless of her politics” indeed does lead directly to a contradiction.
          nicolechat’s insight that Lagarde will be leading an organization which has contributed greatly to reversals in progress for women is the context here. Ignoring this crucial fact and celebrating her nomination as a “big step forward” for women is completely at odds with reality.

          The critical point here is the distinction between “celebrate” and “acknowledge”. Of course, Lagarde’s selection was only possible because of the achievements of feminism over the years. So we acknowledge that, yes, Lagarde’s selection is only possible because of feminism. Great. But should we celebrate?