Madam diplomatWomen should get more opportunities to show their potential in the global arena
In a society where men think they make all the difference in this world, what is the role of females as diplomats? Through the ages, thousands of women around the world have sought to influence the world stage. Some became travellers, business owners and social workers while others devoted themselves to international causes like human rights and world peace. Yet, till the 20th century, very few women have
officially represented their nation abroad. It was only after the worldwide movement for women’s social, political and economic empowerment that females got the opportunity to influence the world arena as diplomats.
Longing to escape the patriarchal mindset and following in the footsteps of their fathers and brothers, female diplomats are dedicated to contributing to make this world peaceful. They are extraordinary individuals serving their country abroad. From New York to Geneva, from London to Iraq and from the deserts of Arabia to Sub-Saharan Africa, female diplomats have proved their worth. A diplomat is not only a person, they are a reflection of the country.
Women diplomats have proved that they can take decisions that are best for their country. Women are better diplomats because they have to be; there are fewer of them and they have to overcome a bias against women. Women in the same diplomatic position as men have to work harder than men to prove themselves, and they cannot afford to make mistakes.
Diplomacy is not only a view of world politics, it is a reflection of the whole society. In view of this, diplomacy today must be represented equally by men and women of equal merit. Women’s participation in diplomacy plays a crucial role in the advancement of women in any field. The foreign office is not only fancy and glamorous as it looks from the outside. It is full of challenges, especially for women serving in diplomatic missions abroad. Women always have had to face a battle: First to gain entry into a diplomatic career and then rise through the ranks in spite of discrimination. The belief that women would not be able to learn difficult languages or willing to work in challenging missions which are considered unsafe has been proven wrong.
Due to the glass ceiling in the diplomatic sector, women have also faced difficulty being promoted beyond the junior and middle levels. One of the main challenges is the issue of family and career. In patriarchal societies, women generally have been considered to be dependents. Some husbands do not like to be labelled ‘dependent’ on their diplomatic ID cards. The spouse cannot just go out and get a job in his field. In many countries, spouses of diplomats are not allowed to work. Conflicts may arise when the wife is working as a diplomat and her spouse has to stay home.
Some say female diplomats have to choose between their family and career. Families and dependents are an important issue that needs consideration when looking at diplomats working abroad. In addition, preparing children to return to their home countries for their education can be an important issue. Nepal is more progressive than many countries in matters like representation of women in government, and the kind of affirmative system Nepal has can be an example for other developing countries. Even then, there are very few women at decision making levels, especially in the diplomatic field.
In a country where education and empowerment of girls are still fundamental issues and inherent patriarchy is reflected in the organisational structure of the various political parties and government bodies, there is a long way to go to encourage Nepali society to accept women as leaders. There was a time when there were no women diplomats, but in recent years there has been steady progress in this sector. Although very few in number, Nepali women diplomats have proven themselves by serving in challenging missions worldwide.
Being a female diplomat myself who got an opportunity to represent Nepal at the United Nations for four years, mainly in the social, humanitarian and cultural sectors, I can proudly say that Nepali women should be given more opportunities to serve the country and show their potential in the international arena. We should all acknowledge the role played by Nepali female diplomats despite the challenges they have to face as a woman and a diplomat. We should increase the participation of women representing Nepal in the global arena.
Despite the challenges and family-career conflict, women diplomats have proven to be better than their male colleagues. Even today, when social, political and economic empowerment of women is a hot theme, women assuming leadership roles in diplomacy still remains an unpopular concept among diplomats in many parts of the world. To overcome this kind of concept, there is a need for each country to formulate a ‘feminist foreign policy’. Excluding the views and perspectives of women in foreign policy is simply unacceptable, and all countries should understand the important role of women representing them abroad.
Mainali is an officer working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal