Research reveals gender inequality among diplomatic corps

By on 30/10/2020 | Updated on 04/07/2023
The index was drawn up by German MEP Dr Hannah Neumann. Credit: European Union 2020 - Source: EP. Photographer: Laurie DIEFFEMBACQ

New research has revealed a stark gender gap among the senior ranks of governments’ foreign offices, with women on average comprising 25% of ambassadors but 43% of all diplomatic staff.

The #SHEcurity Index, published last week, collected data on gender representation from EU members and the G20 across six areas: politics, diplomacy, military, police, civil and military missions, and business. Among military professionals, it found, women comprise 11% of the workforce, while average representation in the police is 25%.

At the current rate of change it will take about five years to achieve gender parity in leadership positions in UN peacekeeping missions, according to the report. It also noted that no woman has ever been commander or deputy commander of an EU military Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission. 

In terms of political representation, the report found that women are increasingly represented in national parliaments, but that at the current rate of progress it will take nearly a century to achieve equal representation on foreign and defence committees.

There are huge discrepancies among EU members. For instance, the index found that Finland, Estonia and Sweden are close to achieving gender parity among their ambassadors. Others have much more work to do: in Belgium and the Czech Republic, just 10% of ambassadors are female.  

The report was drawn up, in part, to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The resolution was intended to “reaffirm the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction,” according to the UN. 

Speaking from experience

“I have been working in peace and security for 15 years now. There was rarely an event, a field trip or a panel where I was not in the minority; sometimes even the only woman in the room,” lead author and German MEP Dr Hannah Neumann wrote in the introduction to the report. 

“During the first years, this didn’t bother me. I was fine, having found my own place in the field. But the longer I worked in crisis regions, the more I realised how this lack of diversity compromises our ability to take the best decisions possible. Political decisions get better the more diverse the people are who make them.”

She added: “This simple realisation is of special importance when we talk about deeply divided societies and decisions about war and peace. Yet, foreign and security policy remains a male domain, and the speed at which things are changing is painfully slow.” 

A data blank

Neumann also complained that sourcing data for #SHEcurity Index had been difficult, arguing that one of the most important lessons from the research was that better and more consistent data should be collated and published.

“We need to gather comprehensive and reliable data for every field, every nation, and every region to make a plan on how to achieve parity faster,” the study noted. 

Other indexes take a broader look at gender parity in the civil service, presenting a similarly mixed picture of equality. The Women Leaders Index, published by Global Government Forum, analyses the proportion of women among nations’ senior civil servants, cabinet ministers, national parliamentarians and business leaders across EU, G20 and OECD countries.

The last iteration of the index was published in March this year. In the main G20 ranking, Canada topped the league table as 48.1% of its senior civil servants are female. This puts it 1.8 percentage points ahead of second-placed Australia. The UK came third, with 44.7% representation, followed by South Africa and Brazil respectively.  

Conversely, countries at the bottom of the ranking included China, with women occupying just 12.6% of senior roles, Turkey (10.9%), South Korea (5.5%), Japan (4.9%) and Saudi Arabia (1.6%).

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