Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 12:39 | SYDNEY
Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 12:39 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Women in international relations


Sam Roggeveen


This post is part of the Women in international relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

20 May 2009 10:43

This post is part of the Women in international relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

A correspondent disagrees with my views about the lack of female participation on The Interpreter:

While there are many women with outstanding qualifications in international relations — and I look forward to reading more of their blogs — only a fraction of policy-makers, decision-makers and public commentators are women, particularly at the senior levels. Professional development and advancement has been limited until very recently and can still be an uphill push against entrenched senior views.

To use the Department of Foreign Affiars and Trade (DFAT) as an example, can I remind you that DFAT only got its first female deputy secretary in 1996, and that in 2008 there was still only one (out of five: DFAT Annual report 07-08). So the credence and weight given to senior female views or comments remains limited by simple virtue of their lack of numbers.

There is a further aspect to consider regarding women in foreign policy. I would draw your attention to a book, 'Women with a mission', published by DFAT. Penny Wensley, former Ambassador to the UN is quoted: 'As a diplomat, I would rather be asked about my experience representing Australia at the United Nations in Geneva, in New York, and as Ambassador for the Environment, leading Australian delegations to myriad major international meetings, negotiating crucial conventions and agreements; or about my chairmanship of the UN Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, of the UN Fifth Committee, or the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on HIV/AIDS. But heads of mission who also happen to be women are role models; and the judgments made about our effectiveness reflect not only on our countries but on women in general. There exists an extra dimension to our experience – at least until there are many more of us in places that count.' (emphasis added.)

So while I agree the gender (or other identifying characteristic) of a commentator should not be relevant, I think it ends up being so because that characteristic, rightly or wrongly, has great bearing on the person's education, career, opportunities and, most importantly for a blog wishing for diversity of opinion, experience. And as Penny Wensley's quote demonstrates, even having made it to the top, gender (in this case) remains relevant.