Right now President Obama is deciding whether to nominate Larry Summers -- his former economic adviser -- to head the World Bank, the global bank tasked with reducing world poverty. Larry Summers can't possibly fulfill this mandate for one simple reason: he has an almost comical gift for disrespecting the powerless -- the same people the World Bank is supposed to help.
This is a man who called Africa "under-polluted," pushed the deregulation of derivatives in the 1990s, lost billions of Harvard's money through reckless bets and recently argued that Americans shouldn't learn foreign languages.
But most significantly, from our perspective, Larry Summers has a record of intentionally and repeatedly disrespecting women. And that's bad news for the working poor, particularly women, in developing countries.
Summers has a long history of making sexist comments -- in fact, most recently, another potential candidate for the World Bank, Christina Romer, was revealed to be a victim of Summers' sexism. A recently leaked memo proves her recommendations to the president, as a senior member of the White House economic council, were deliberately left out of a final memo to the president. According to his own emails, he didn't take her recommendations seriously, so he didn't include them. She even said she felt like "a piece of meat" working with him.
And what of that infamous speech in which Summers suggested that women weren't as well suited, genetically, to math and science as men?
It's irresponsible for anyone in academia to discourage half the population from attempting to apply themselves to an incredibly important set of disciplines, like math or science. But his planned, thought out remarks were just false. A recent worldwide study found that achievement gaps between boys and girls were not a global pattern. For example, in Iceland, Thailand and the UK, 15-year-old girls outnumbered boys at the top levels of achievement in math. The study also found that generally, countries where girls outperformed boys in math and science were also countries with high gender equality -- like Denmark.
Women are the key to alleviating poverty and economic inequality. But Summers believes, fundamentally, that we have gender inequality because success is the result of merit. So, rather than examining institutional factors that lead to the low participation of women in science and math, he suggests it must be genetics! The fact that Summers is on the short list at all speaks volumes about the extent to which our leaders value -- or don't -- women, as a group.
According to Oxfam, women suffer first and most from the effects of poverty and poor health. Women are also the leading edge of economic development. They are more likely to start small businesses and "of the 15 job categories expected to grow the most in the next decade, all but two are filled primarily by women." The developing world needs economic leaders who understand, appreciate and respect the role that women are playing to build these new economies.
The World Bank wields tremendous power over the lives of women and girls everywhere -- including helping to restructure entire countries, their education system, and working in places where women and girls are getting their first glimpse of equality. We need someone there who believes women and girls have the same potential as boys and men.
There are so many better candidates for this job -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is even reportedly on the shortlist. Progressive economists and members of Congress don't want Summers in the role either -- going so far as to publicly endorse an alternative candidate, Jeffrey Sachs.
But regardless of the alternatives, 42,000 UltraViolet members are clear on one thing, and members of the public interest advocacy group Public Citizen seem to agree: Choosing Larry Summers would be a mistake, one that could shortchange millions of women and girls all over the world.
President Obama has an opportunity to stand up for women while an all-out assault on our rights is being waged by the GOP at the federal and the state level. It's up to him to do the right thing and make it clear that sexism will not be rewarded with power and influence.
If you haven't already, sign this petition and let the president know that Larry Summers is the wrong choice to lead the World Bank: http;//act.weareultraviolet.
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