Founder's Note: “Thus human courts acquit the strong”

A divisive sickness plagued the kingdom. Generations, classes, races, turning on each other. They died not all, but all were sick. At last the Afghan Hound was called upon to unite the provinces and quieten discontent.

“My dear friends”, she said, “I think these trials show that heaven intend to tell us that we will need to build a country that works, not for a privileged few, but for every one of us. So let us find the one of us whose crimes are worst to draw the lightning on his head alone and, hopefully, at one stroke atone for all. For history teaches that in times of crisis, one often makes these sacrifices. So search your consciences, look deep inside; reveal the ugly thing you always thought to hide. Hold nothing back, wipe clean the slate: a public confession is good for the state!”

“I have insulted great nations and foreign statesmen, volunteered the Orangutan. Had they harmed me at all? No, not in any way. So that was wrong, of course. But wait - there is more. I must admit that sometimes it occurred that, inadvertently, I lied and mislead my fellow animals about those nations and about international alliances”.

“Oh, Sire,” said the Afghan Hound, “We have the best of kings, whose scruples show his noble soul. But, I ask, why was mocking other countries a sin? Those low, retarded things were honoured when you made fun of them. And, I observe, this international alliance got what such meddling, bureaucratic organisations deserve. The European Union, exploiters all.”  

My attempt at fable writing is heavily indebted to the 17th century French writer Jean de la Fontaine, particularly ‘The Animals Stricken with the Plague’. The italics were lifted from Elizur Wright and Craig Hill’s translations of his work. Like many of his contemporaries, La Fontaine used animals to criticise the monarchy and the unfairness of the justice system.

In ‘The Animals…’, the lion-king gathers the animal kingdom to discover out who is responsible for the plague that has struck his state. Each animal, from the most to the least powerful, lists its sins. All are forgiven until we reach the poor, feeble ass, who owns up to having eaten a whole field of grass, a laughable transgression compared with the human and animal deaths acknowledged by fellow mammals. But the ass has no backing, no one dependent on his power, so he is condemned to death, which La Fontaine uses to illustrate his point that “human courts acquit the strong, and doom the weak, as therefore wrong.”

I have been thinking about this fable since Wednesday evening, when the new British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. My biggest issue with Boris Johnson isn’t that he supported Brexit. Rather, it is his repeated and well-documented insults against foreign powers. A few hours before nominating him, May had declared, on the steps of 10 Downing Street, that she would prioritise “not the mighty nor the wealthy nor the privileged” but the working class.

Yet giving Johnston the Foreign & Commonwealth Office immediately negated the spirit of her speech. You have to be extremely privileged to be handed a top foreign policy job despite repeatedly making fun of foreign states and dignitaries. Many FCO staffers Johnson addressed the next day would probably see their careers seriously hindered, if not terminated, had they made, on the record, even half of Johnson’s comments. The political court has, for now at least, acquitted the mighty, wealthy and privileged Johnson.

#HerForShe – Wasim Mir | Deputy Head of Mission | British Embassy Brasilia

Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Brasilia  Wasim Mir

Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Brasilia

Wasim Mir

What do you do in Brazil as Deputy Head of Mission?

I have  responsibilities across everything the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) does in Brazil. We have posts in six locations across the country. We employ over 250 people. I am in effect the chief operating officer of business, making sure it all comes together. I stand in for the ambassador when he is away and I lead on policies such as the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations, UN issues etc. This year I am also helping with the preparations for the Olympics

You were previously posted in New York at the United Nations. What was that like?

At the UN secretariat, I worked for the president of the general assembly on HIV aids. That was a fantastic experience. I got to work in a team of about 25 people made up of 16 different nationalities. The diversity of the team was   amazing and made us a better team.

You are senior sponsor for the Women’s Association at FCO. What does that entail?

The Women's Association is the biggest staff association in the Foreign Office with over 500 members. As a senior sponsor, I support their work and help engage with staff across the FCO including  senior managers. More importantly I help them set direction and help get things done. Right now we are working on our objectives for next year. I led work with the Women's Association and other associations to get more consistent data around diversity in the Foreign Office.

Recently, with a colleague here in Brazil, Kate Thornley, I helped on the Women's Association elections for a new leadership team. That was really successful, we have got over 1,000 votes for the different positions.

Why do you think it is important for the men to be involved in the women's association?

Prior to sponsoring the Women's Association, I was sponsoring the Minority Ethnic Association. I realised that if you just have minority ethnic staff talking about minority ethnic issues or if you just have women talking about women's issues, you are not going to make the kind of progress I really want to see. At FCO, we are aiming to go from having 27% of our senior staff being female to 39% over the next few years. If we are really going to do that, then men have got to help deliver that as well as women. 

I thought I should lead with example and start working with them as an association.

Is there a lot of men involved?

I think I was the first man to join the Women's Association and the first man to sponsor the Women's Association. Over the last year or two, we have seen more and more men get involved in helping the women's association do their work.

Obviously people working for the foreign office are spread all over the world. How does that work in terms of running an association?

The Women’s Association is a global association and it's open to everybody who works at FCO in all the posts across the world. We do events and activities that work across posts. For example, if we are delivering learning sets, then it is open to people in different posts to join by Video Conferences. Because of this geographical spread, we are also looking at different ways of working. For instance, in  Asia, a number of the women's associations have got together to form a kind of Asia chapter so that they can run more activities locally.

Here in Brazil, we've got a Brazil network Women's Association group.  Around International Women's Day, they did a fantastic event wherewomen within the embassy brought interesting female colleagues from outside to try and come build a wider network.

 How do you think having more women in the Foreign Office will change it?

Greater gender diversity will mean that the organisation is more diverse in the way that it thinks and in the way that it acts. This means that it will have a better balance in terms of the way staff are managed and abetter balance in the way that we are developing policies and the way that we look at risk. Ultimately, I think it will lead to better foreign policy and better results.

That is what we have seen in the private sector, organisations with a better gender balance, at board levels perform better that those with less balance.

What's the biggest challenge to women working for FCO?

We want to aim towards gender parity at all levels including at the very top. We have got a historic legacy. I don't think FCO in the past has been as committed to gender diversity as it could have been. It is an organisation with a very strong culture and there is work to do to change that culture so that it is more open to people irrespective of their backgrounds. 

Beyond that, the challenge is that women are able to lean in in an organisation which is global, visibility and networking are incredibly important.  

Do you have programmes to reach out to girls and younger women?

We do. I have been involved personally in outreach to universities. Last year I travelled to four universities across the north of England to try and get a bigger variety of people coming in at entry level. We've been relatively successful in terms of gender balance at entry level over the last few years, so, that's good news.

I think we also try and work with other organisations. Here in Brazil I am quite active in talking to the Brazilian foreign ministry about how they work on these issues so we can try and share experience.

Do you have any advice for a girl or young woman who would like to apply to FCO?

Don't be daunted by the application process. It is a long and it is a competitive process. If you are committed to working in this area, then go for it, lean in, just push as hard as you can. Try and get in contact with somebody in the organisation here understanding of it on how it works inside. Then finally if first you don't succeed, try again. 

What was your career like prior to working for FCO?

After university I spent three years in the Department for Education, working on education policies, doing things like taking nursery bills through parliament. After that I went to work in the European Commission and then after that I moved across to the Foreign Office. In the Foreign Office, I have mainly done multilateral work. I have worked in representations for EU twice and I have also worked in our mission to the United Nations as well as the United Nations itself. 

What is your favourite thing about working for the Foreign Office?

I think the greatest thing when I walked into the Foreign Office is the variety. If you like to experience new cultures, new environments, a job at FCO will bring you that as you move through your career. Within any job, there is a variety of things that you are dealing with. On a daily basis, I could be dealing with the flood in our embassy or I could be  influencing on policy, on disarmament or on trade or on peace-keeping.

The Embassy Team in Brasília

The Embassy Team in Brasília