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Female ambassadors discuss women's growing place in diplomacy
US Embassy
April 11, 2013

Despite continuing challenges faced by women in diplomatic service, the world has made strides in ensuring women take up the challenging role of representing their countries abroad, a role traditionally reserved for men until recently. Two women diplomats, Ambassadors Lisa Stadelbauer (Canada) and Barbara Joziasse (Netherlands), testified at a Ladies Night event organized jointly by the Quill Press Club and the U.S. Embassy’s Women Journalists Mentoring Program (WJMP). Currently, Harare is host to 12 female heads of diplomatic missions (two of whom are Charge d’Affaires).

“Women are good at diplomacy because they tend to be less confrontational by nature, and they tend to be amenable to what we can call win- win situations,” said Stadelbauer, who heads the Canadian Embassy in Harare. “By this I don’t mean by any means that women are soft or they are pushovers - you still have to have a bit of backbone to pull in this game. I mean we have a different approach than men to settle conflicts and in finding creative problem solving,” said Ambassador Stadelbauer, who has served in her country’s Foreign Service for 23 years.

Until 1947, she said, her country did not allow women to write the Foreign Service exam which is the gateway to diplomatic postings. She said between 1947 and 1971, women were allowed to write the exam but were asked to retire or change occupations if they got married. Currently, women make up 35 per cent of ambassadorial postings in the Canadian government.

“The Netherlands is not ideal either,” said Ambassador Joziasse. “When I look at women’s issues, there are still a lot of things to be done. At my level, 15 percent of the employees are female. It’s not good enough and we are working on it.” She also highlighted research that indicated that on average in the Netherlands men are paid 18 per cent more that women for the same jobs - a situation she said was not justifiable.

Ladies Night at the Quill Club are held monthly and are designed to promote the participation of women journalists and speakers in the traditionally male dominated press club. The platform, which was a belated commemoration of Women’s History Month (March), gave the women diplomats an opportunity to comment on various subjects including media freedom, representation of women in the media, and how women can rise to leadership positions.

“We have 600 radio stations in the Netherlands - a mix of public and private. (We also have) three national broadcasting companies that run several radio stations, two big commercial broadcasting stations…and this keeps the politicians, the private sector and civil society on their toes,” said the Dutch ambassador. The Netherlands is listed second on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by the international press freedom group, Reporters without Borders. Ambassador Joziasse described the limited access to information in Zimbabwe is “a disgrace.”

“It’s a contradiction I cannot answer…. Very few people have access to DSTV. It’s not because they are not interested or clever, it’s because they cannot afford it,” said Ambassador Joziasse.

Ambassador Stadelbauer highlighted some challenges faced by women diplomats. “It is very, very difficult as a woman to find a good partner who will quit their life and follow you around. Some of my very dearest friends in the Foreign Service are still single,” she said. “I got lucky before I even joined the Foreign Service and that could have been the key.”

“It’s challenging to be a mother in this career,” said the Canadian Ambassador, who is a mother of two girls. She said her country had some of the most generous maternity and paternity leave provisions. Canadian diplomats can take one year paid maternity leave. “It’s put some operational challenges on our department, but I think it is the right move,” said Stadelbauer. However, she noted, this has meant that women choose postings where day-care is more readily affordable and available.

Ambassador Joziasse challenged women to start taking themselves seriously and to claim their space; but also encouraged them to choose their battles. “Take yourself seriously, but not overly seriously because you get into a situation that you start fighting battles that are not worth fighting for,” advised the Ambassador.

WJMP was launched in September 2011 as a joint collaboration between the United States Embassy’s Public Affairs Section and the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC). The program prepares young women journalists for leadership roles in Zimbabwe’s increasingly robust media environment through one-on-one pairing with experienced mentors; group meetings, discussions and trainings; an academic short course; writing evaluation; and study tours.

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