In a year where the coronavirus has dominated national and global politics, where economies witnessed unprecedented inflation and fiscal challenges, the year has been a year like no other.
2021 has been a testing year for everyone. Shocks to national healthcare systems, large-scale lockdowns and the trauma of people losing family members to the disease has been felt across the world.
Yet we saw everyone come together to vaccinate the world. Unity, cooperation and strong leaders emerged not just nationally but worldwide.
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Theses leaders served as either role models or have been an inspiration to millions globally. As such, KOKO as an organisation annually choose a ‘Woman of the Year’. We begin the process with a late-September meeting, the nominations are varied and the debates vigorous, never more so than in an era of great challenges in diverse fields.
Our ‘Woman of the Year’ represents not only her inspirational achievements but more importantly, embodies the struggles of millions of extraordinary African women and women globally who make a difference every day across our nations and continent. KOKO’S Woman Of The Year designation is not necessarily an award; it is an acknowledgment of a person or group of people who have influenced society.
KOKO’S 2021 Woman Of The Year is Nigerian-American Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the First Woman And The First African To Become Director General of the World Trade Organization. And she is the cover star of The KOKO Magazine (International) Special Edition.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala assumed her post on March 1 as the first African and first woman to lead the World Trade Organization, a 164-member group of nations that oversees trade across the world.
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At the W.T.O.’s headquarters on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged the huge challenges ahead of her.
“It’s been a long and tough road, full of uncertainty, but now it’s the dawn of a new day and the real work can begin,” she said. “The challenges facing the W.T.O. are numerous and tricky, but they are not insurmountable.”
Okonjo-Iweala took on the role of director-general at a watershed moment for our global health and well-being, she has through engagement started addressing health issues brought about by the pandemic and get the global economy going again.
“A strong W.T.O. is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “Our organization faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the W.T.O. stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.”
Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala has been at the forefront to stop the unequal distribution of Covid vaccines worldwide which overall dampen the effect on country’s economic recovery. Richer nations have hoarded the highest number of limited Covid shots, while many low-income nations have struggled to get their hands on the much-needed vaccines.
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Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala fight against vaccine equity is borne out of the fact that just 7% of Africa’s population have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The European Union and the U.S., meanwhile, have fully vaccinated around 67% and 58% of their populations respectively.
Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala as the Chair of Gavi has been leading the charge for the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccine in Africa.
“What we’re trying to say is that the inequity in access to vaccines is not acceptable. The fact that on the African continent, less than four percent of us have been vaccinated, whereas in the rich countries, you know, close to 50 percent have been vaccinated, is not something that really is good for the world,” she said.
“Why? Because we have all these variants that are circulating. And if you don’t vaccinate people, they will just migrate from the unvaccinated to the vaccinated. So, what we’re saying is, in order to solve this problem, we have to produce more vaccines. And then we have to distribute them equitably, to parts of the world that don’t have.
“At the WTO, what we’re doing is actually working directly with the manufacturers. We’re helping them monitor their supply chains, which are very complicated, to see what are the bottlenecks they have, what are the regulatory issues they face, how can we facilitate trade?
“In return, by asking them to deconcentrate production and go to those parts of the world where they can invest. For example, on the African continent, we don’t want to continue importing 99 percent of vaccines that we use, or 90 percent of our pharmaceuticals. So, they should invest, and I think it’s working. Pfizer announced $100 million investment in South Africa recently. We’re also looking at Nigeria.”
Make no mistake, Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala job affects every person, family and community and for her service to humanity, Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala Is Our 2021 Woman Off The Year.
Photo Credit: Getty