By Salina Ahmed
The first woman in Parliament took her seat in the House of Commons just 97 years ago. At the time, the UK’s gradual recognition of women's place in decision-making was expected to reorganise the dynamics of the political world. But when the Equal Franchise Act was passed in 1928, giving women equal voting rights to men, it became obvious that the stigma attached to the female gender was not going to disappear any time soon. In 1929, just 2.3% of MPs were female. After years of systematic construction of a regime that practised fixation of male gratification in events about leadership and achievement, voters inevitably believed women too imprudent to contribute to governmental success, let alone to represent her government in a foreign land.
The argument presented at the time is strangely familiar: it's a man's world. Women should not be in the workforce. Women are impressionable beings who, quite simply, do not bear the initiative of making important decisions. Women should sit tight, sit quiet and raise the children whilst watching their men make first a mess and then a mockery of the world. These ideas were so ingrained in society that Cicely Mayhew, the first female British diplomat, was only entrusted with the responsibility of making overseas decisions in the late 1940's.
This was not an archaic happening although it did create a scope for women to grow in their careers, or at least be recognised for their abilities with the appointment of higher positions. But as we sit proud, applauding this notion with the fallacious assumption that it is synonymous to female success in the UK, we remain absent-minded about the 14% of ethnic minorities who often go underrepresented. Where do we fit in?
The 2014-2015 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Diversity and Equality report states that only 27% of UK-based staff in senior civil service position are women. Out of all UK-based staff members, only 12% are from the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) background. Of them, a shocking 4% partake in senior roles. Are UK foreign services too white? At surface level this may not appear pertinent, but whilst we grow as a diverse country, we haven’t really succeeded as women until we have collaborated with all of them. We haven’t really succeeded as a nation either.
UK foreign policy is advanced through employing a comprehensive outlook of the world. To represent this country beyond its borders and foster important relationships or make conscious and appropriate overseas decisions, we need employees whose heritage, language proficiency, religious sensitivities and traditional customs help to build all the necessary connections. Diversity is important. I am important. My views, my ability, which I share with other non-white women, to take this country's foreign policy forward, should be considered as a topic of discussion, and not as a topic of otherness - both by this country's officials and by women from ethnic minorities themselves.
Currently, ethnic minorities have very little influence toward UK foreign policy because there are too few of us in our foreign service. But the potential it harbours is magnificent should more coloured women advance forward into the field, or were given the opportunity to do so. Whilst the majority of foreign issues concerning the UK are situated in non-white places geographically, this involuntarily involves us placing a greater responsibility on our shoulders. If fulfilled, we will not only employ the self-recognition of our ability to equally succeed in leadership roles, but we will also demonstrate that we can do so whilst carrying two or more parts of the world in our bodies. Only then will we succeed and thrive as female genders in foreign policy. Until then, more non-white women should be making higher decisions for Britain.