Yesterday’s announcement of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation was a huge feat for the renowned, Harvard-trained economist, who had been in the race since 2020. Since the creation of the WTO, no woman and African has helmed its affairs over regulating global trade, and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala installed has now made history.
While the neoliberal economic polices she pushed as Nigeria’s former finance minister is surely a topic for another day, the internet is having its fun with the #BeLikeNgoziChallenge, which has seen people especially women dressing in Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s signature garb of gele, traditional blouse, and beaded neckpieces.
Obvious to anyone, the participation in the challenge has been quite lukewarm. But people have used it as an opportunity to mock and berate women because it doesn’t show nudity, drawing comparisons to the #SihouetteChallenge of recent memory which had countless women jumping on it.
Though the #BeLikeNgoziChallenge adopts Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s sartorial aesthetics as a thing of cultural pride, altogether an inspiration for women and girls towards breaking the glass ceiling, it is loaded with a patriarchal messaging that tells women that covering their bodies will earn them ”respect” than showing naked parts. It reinforces how women should be treated and regarded based on their appearance, and puts a false value on those who comply.
Even before this challenge, women have since fallen for this mythology. It’s respectability politics that ultimately treats women the same way, whether they are cocooned as an Egyptian mummy or barely wearing anything. Patriarchy doesn’t have an issue with nudity, what it does have an issue with is when women show nudity on their terms.
This is what made the #SihouetteChallenge a huge thing, having women refusing to be shamed for their sexuality or see it as a taboo. The #BeLikeNgoziChallenge also reveals a double standard around appearances for men and women. When Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, last year, was reelected as President of the African Development Bank Group, there was no social media challenge to have men dress like him. Of course, the significance of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala heading the WTO outweighs Dr. Adesina’s position at the AfDB, but the point is that women have existed to be policed.
Although there’s nothing wrong in partaking in the #BeLikeNgoziChallenge, its weaponisation to hold women to a standard of appearance and behaviour is what we must reject.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.