A leading Emirati diplomatic institution has stressed the importance of career achievements being based on "skills not gender" as a new report showed only one in five ambassador posts across the world are taken up by women.
The gender gulf was highlighted in the Women in Diplomacy Index 2023, released by the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy on Wednesday to coincide with the International Women's Day.
It tracked the ambassadorial make-up of 193 UN member states, taking into account some 12,000 appointments over the past year.
The report showed that while equality between the sexes was being achieved in some diplomatic missions, there was still much work to be done.
The index revealed 20.54 per cent of ambassadors and permanent representatives in the world are women. Canada leads the way with 51 per cent, with a 50-50 split of men and women envoys in Andorra, the Maldives, and Monaco.
Other nations to buck the global trend include Finland (49.5 per cent) and the US (41 per cent), with New Zealand, the UK, Ghana, Nicaragua, Sweden and the Bahamas all topping the 40 per cent mark.
Concerted effort to effect change
“It takes the support, effort, and interest of several parties to help overcome the biases and stereotypes associated with being a woman in the foreign affairs space," said Nickolay Mladenov, director general of AGDA.
"This year’s Women in Diplomacy Index report shows us that while we have made notable progress towards women’s empowerment, much work still needs to be done.
"I hope we can come together to be the inspiration for the next generation of women leaders in the UAE.”
Th research shows progress has been slow but steady among G20 countries, with female representation in the diplomatic core rising from 17 per cent in 2018 to 21 per cent in 2023.
The UAE's number of women ambassadors stands at 12.5 per cent, up from 7 per cent in 2018.
The Emirates has placed women in key diplomatic posts in Paris, Washington DC, and at the UN in New York in recent years.
One standard bearer for women in diplomacy is Lana Nusseibeh, who has served as the UAE Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN since 2013.
Hend Al Otaiba became the UAE ambassador to France in 2021. The UAE has also appointed women as ambassadors to countries such as Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands.
Shaima Gargash, deputy chief of mission at the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC, said women often face obstacles when seeking to broaden their horizons by working overseas.
She was thankful for the support of her family in taking on her role in the US and said she had always received backing from the UAE.
"At the ministry it was always based on skills and not gender," said MS Gargash at a virtual panel held to mark the launch of the index.
"People forget the amount of responsibility that women have more than men. [UAE] leadership has been extremely supportive and listen to the needs of women in the foreign service.
"I think the struggle isn't about the institution but more about our culture - when I decided to move here [the US], my husband was my biggest supporter and champion and there were my parents. We forget about the extended family and their pressures on us.
"This has become not only specific to women but also to men. A lot of men don't want to move abroad because they want to stay close to their family or they don't want to disrupt their children's education so the reality is that their a lot of sacrifices throughout life, you just need to redefine your priorities."
She said the work carried out on overseas mission is challenging, which is why support is crucial.
"You want that support group because everyone feels lonely especially if you are abroad on a mission taking on so much responsibility - you always want to know that you have a backing - this is what women need to know - that the institution supports you and you have people around you," she said.
Dr Sara Chehab, a senior Research Fellow at AGDA, is hopeful that more women will be given the opportunity to build careers in diplomacy.
“First published in 2018, the Women in Diplomacy Index originally sought to track the percentage share of women ambassadors in the countries of the G20 and the European Union," Dr Chebab said.
"We have expanded this project every year since then. The 2023 dataset is quite unique as it is now able to track more than 12,000 ambassadorial appointments worldwide on a yearly basis.
"It focuses on ambassadorships as well as permanent representatives to gauge the degree to which women assume some of the most prominent leadership positions in the world of diplomacy.
“As more states commit to making their foreign security and development policies gender inclusive, we believe that this index can help frame vital conversations such as the need to promote and appoint more women to top diplomatic posts,” she said.