The annual spring meetings of the World Bank will be held this weekend in Washington, D.C. amidst turmoil and controversy surrounding its head, Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz, better known for his role as a former Bush official central to the planning of the Iraq war, came under fire yesterday for impropriety surrounding the promotion and pay raise of his girlfriend, Shaha Riza. Wolfowitz, who has been outspoken on the need to get rid of corruption in development during his tenure at the World Bank, made the hourly CNN newsfeed for helping Riza secure a high paying special assignment to the State Department when he joined the Bank.
As if he didn't have enough problems, the Financial Times reported last night that reproductive health policies have been under attack under Wolfowitz due to the appointment of Juan José Daboub to managing director. Daboub is a former member of the ruling conservative party of Ecuador. The FT reports that Daboub is "attempting to radically alter a long-standing health strategy at the World Bank" and that "there was a widespread perception within the bank that the emphasis on contraception in preventing disease was being altered following the appointment [of Daboub]."
Apparently, both Wolfowitz and Daboub didn't read the World Development 2007 report, recently published by their own institution. The theme of the report is youth aged 12 to 24. If you read the report, you would have been shocked to find the World Bank endorsing reproductive health policies to improve youth's health. The report states:
The structured school environment is conducive to teaching young people about their bodies and about safe health behavior. The programs offer a chance to reach large numbers of young people and their teachers, as well as an opportunity to institutionalize sex education and broaden its impact when ministries of education make it official policy. No evidence indicates that sex education increases sexual activity among youth.
I know that I nearly fell off my chair. The World Bank? The big mean financial institution led by former Bush ideologue endorsing comprehensive sexuality education in schools? The report also rejects that an abstinence-only message is appropriate for youth:
Messages must provide a range of options: programs providing only one message—say, on abstinence—will not reduce STIs.
Wonder how that one got by Wolfowitz! But it seems that Daboub has been trying to put an end to all of that; according to the FT, he recently tried to delete all references to family planning from a country proposal from Madagascar.
The World Bank spring meetings this weekend appear to have a humanitarian focus with a spotlight on empowering women and promoting gender equality. Specifically, they plan to increase women-owned businesses by 10 percent by 2009 and help establish clearer property rights for women. Women's economic empowerment is certainly a just cause, but not as a veil that covers an ideological agenda to strip women of their right to access contraception.
It's clear that Wolfowitz cares more about maintaining his credentials as a Bush ideologue instead of alleviating global poverty. But due to his blunders mixing work with pleasure, it doesn't look like he'll keep his job for long. The advocacy community should join with the media in evaluating Wolfowitz and demanding answers.