Breaking Barriers: Empowering Women in Diplomacy for a More Inclusive Future

June 24, 2023

The UN resolution called “International Day of Women in Diplomacy” reiterates that the participation of women, on equal terms with men and at all levels of decision-making, is essential to the achievement of sustainable development, peace and democracy. Marked on 24 June, this day is a call to recognize critical contributions of women to shaping the multilateral system and their indispensable role in diplomacy. Today we celebrate the trailblazers, women who negotiated peace agreements and strengthened international relations- in hope also to inspire the next generation of women to pursue diplomacy as a career option.

In addition to celebrating contributions of women to diplomacy and multilateral decision-making, today we draw attention to the persistent underrepresentation of women in senior diplomatic positions, pinpoint challenges that women in diplomacy face and discuss barriers that still need to be removed. We use this day to remember women whose contributions were edited out of history and women whose achievements were attributed to men who were higher in hierarchy at the time. Today we highlight that there are still structural issues that impede the promotion of women to senior roles within their ministries of foreign affairs. At the same time, we bring to awareness the less tangible but equally harmful informal rules and cultural dynamics that operate under deeply rooted societal legacies of gender inequalities to prevent equally qualified women candidates from reaching top positions in diplomacy to this very day. 

Women have been playing a crucial role in global governance since the drafting and signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945. Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Women bring immense benefits to diplomacy. Their leadership styles, expertise and priorities broaden the scope of issues under consideration and the quality of outcomes. A growing body of research tells us that the lack of parity in women’s representation in foreign policy is in fact detrimental to peace. Also, data tell us that when women have a seat at the table, the odds of reducing instability and conflict improve significantly and peace agreements last longer. Today’s complex societal challenges – from climate change, to pandemics, to human rights violation, to sustaining peace, to inflation and economic uncertainty– cannot be resolved unless women leaders are equally represented and gender equality principles integrated across board.

Today, out of the 193 Member States of the United Nations, only 34 women serve as elected Heads of State or Government. Whilst progress has been made in many countries, the global proportion of women in other levels of political office worldwide still has far to go: 21% of the world’s ministers, 26% of national parliamentarians, and 34% of elected seats of local government. According to a new UN report, at the current pace of progress, equal representation in parliament will not be achieved until 2062.

Today’s complex societal challenges – from climate change, to pandemics, to human rights violation, to sustaining peace, to inflation and economic uncertainty– cannot be resolved unless women leaders are equally represented, and gender equality principles integrated across board.

It is optimistic that the number of women ambassadors and permanent representatives worldwide is increasing with the share of women going from 16% in 2018 to 20.5% in 2023. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina is positioned above the global average with 28% women ambassadors claiming 25th place globally, it is still lagging behind most of its immediate neighbors.

With the country now gearing towards implementation of fourth national action plan for implementation of UN Resolution 1325, a lot has been achieved under the leadership of Agency of Gender Equality of Bosnia and Herzegovina who shifted from the traditional and hierarchical understanding of Women, Peace and Security agenda towards civilian safety and protection from all forms of intimidation and everyday threats. 

Research also shows that women tend to engage more eagerly in transformative, rather than self-serving leadership. Data tell us that when women serve as ministers and cabinet members, they introduce progressive legislation related to social protection, education and economic empowerment. Research also shows that their leadership styles are more inclusive, and that women tend to work better with colleagues across the political spectrum to bridge differences. While Bosnia and Herzegovina has for the first time a women member of the Presidency and Chairperson of the Council of Ministers, there has still not been a substantial change in the status and influence of women in political life. There is a gender imbalance at all levels of government in the country. 

Therefore, we strongly encourage all our partners and stakeholders to continue making systemic investments to ensure women’s equal representation in foreign policy, diplomacy and across the spectrum of decision making. Especially so since a more nuanced analysis reveals that despite the fact that women are gradually becoming better represented in foreign policy (e.g., ministry of foreign affairs staff), the representation of women is far from parity among ambassadors, police, and the military. Also, while the number of women working in junior and administrative positions is increasing faster, women’s representation in more senior and leadership positions is still increasing slowly or is even decreasing.

On June 24, let us do more than celebrate the immense progress that women diplomats have achieved in Bosnia and Herzegovina and around the world. Let’s use this day to actively confront the gender bias thinking of ways in which diplomacy should be rethought from gender perspective. And let’s work further and deeper than simply achieving gender balance in ambassadorial positions. Let us also invest efforts towards empowering our role models and transformative women leaders to build trust, personal resilience and determination, helping them climb the ladder to claim their righteous place at the table. Investments into future women of influence who will work towards more inclusive, just, and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina are investments that will surely pay off.