Last November, Future Foreign Policy, the independent international affairs think tank giving the next generation of foreign policy professionals a voice, asked writers to pitch policy ideas to industry experts and policy makers.
Mine, reproduced below in its entirety, was about getting more women working in foreign policy. I mulled over the pitch for six months, trying to come up with my own way to contribute to solving this, beyond words.
This site is my answer. I aim, by interviewing successful, professional women at all stages of their careers, in a variety of foreign policy-related fields, to show teenagers, young women and women looking for a career reconversion that foreign policy can be a great option and a meaningful way to contribute to the world.
Successful international relations mean more women should be involved
The absence of women in international relations bodies presents a challenge and makes policy decisions less likely to succeed the around the world. We need women to guarantee that peace will work, that a variety of issues will be given a voice and that the decision-making process isn’t skewed. For this to happen, a shift in mentality from both genders as well as further initiatives aimed at women are required.
Women are underrepresented in foreign policy and national security, from decision-making body such as the UK NSC, which only counts two women, to think thanks and academia. In the US, only 30% of senior positions in international relation bodies are held by women (Micah Zenko).
However, including women in foreign policy and national security “makes the job of keeping the peace easier” (Condoleezza Rice) and “raises issues like human rights, citizen security, justice, employment, health care” (Hillary Clinton). Women’s involvement in international relations has been linked to stronger sustainable development and to highlighting minority issues.
Governmental bodies, NGOs and international organisations agree that women’s issues need to be brought to the forefront of foreign policy and international relations, for instance with William Hague and Angelina Jolie’s initiative to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war or Barack Obama asking to empower women and girls globally (Presidential memo, 30 January 2013). In short, everybody, whether leaders or organisations, agrees that the world would benefit from having more women in international relations.
The lack of women in international relations doesn’t only mean women’s voices are less likely to be heard, but also that the eventual decision might be skewed by the male decision-making process, an issue which was studied following the 2008 financial crisis and named as one of its reasons.
Getting more women involved in international relations, whether as high-ranking civil servants or as part of grassroots NGO movements, is necessary to highlight issues pertaining directly to women’s lives such as reproductive rights and rape. For instance, Clinton used her term as Secretary of State to highlight the disproportionate rate of female foetuses in China or to criticise Afghan laws aiming to restrict Shiite women’s rights.
However, for women’s involvement to be efficient, it needs to go beyond classical female topics and should include defence, armament, cybersecurity and more – otherwise it risks remaining a token measure.
For this to happen, changes in mentality both on women’s and men’s parts are required. As a profession, international relations needs to get rid of the importance of the 'old boys network' by mentoring and training young women to demonstrate the possibilities their involvement would open and to show them how to navigate the field.
To summarise this talk, if we want to achieve peace, we need women, women and more women.