The Rise of Women in Diplomacy - a Global Trend?



A formal and neat, “young woman with a high forehead and hair half swept back quietly gazes at the throngs of people pushing for a glimpse of her, a faint smile on her lips and eyelids low"[u1]

is how the Reuters news agency described Kim Yo-jong, as she came out of the jet in South Korea.

She is of course the younger sister of Kim Jong-un the Supreme Leader of the DPRK and one of the most powerful figures in DPRK politics and caught the world's attention immediately after her arrival in Pyeong Chang. Dubbed as “North Korea's Ivanka Trump” by much of the Western media, Kim Yo-jong's relaxed manner and big smile left a largely positive impression on the South Korean public and softened the perception of DPRK as antiquated and militaristic.

According to analysts, DPRK used ‘soft power’ this time to engage the South and Kim Jong-un's sister being a woman may have contributed to this charm offensive. There are still limits to the role of women in DPRK’s diplomacy, but the inclusion of females at all levels, and high positions in particular, illustrates a progressive and modernized diplomatic society that takes into account the opinions and perspectives of women.

Diplomacy is not symbolic of men’s status and views of world affairs, but rather it is reflective of men’s position in society as a whole.

ROK President Moon Jae-in talks with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, after watching the DPRK's Samjiyon Orchestra perform in Seoul, February 11, 2018.

So why are women necessary in diplomacy? Why is it important to have women at the global negotiating table?

Women are innately equipped with diplomatic skills such as negotiating, intelligence seeking and maintaining peace. In a speech last March, Hillary Clinton the former US secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee, spoke about the integration of women and girls into peace and security proceedings and warned of the Trump Administration’s approach to international affairs.

“Studies show – here I go again, talking about research, evidence and facts – but in fact when women are included in peace negotiations, agreements are less likely to fail and more likely to last.” As stated by Talyn Rahman in his report, the willingness to negotiate and hammer out solutions is an innate trait in women, as the process of engaging in negotiations requires patience, cooperation, careful listening, and mutual understanding.

Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, waves during a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, US, on November 6, 2016.

More women diplomats and specialists can provide solutions by giving fresh insights from relatively new candidates to solve new problems worldwide. The 21st century brings a host of fresh challenges in the diplomatic world. Global economic crises, when they occur, require the world’s largest economies to discuss the coordination of financial policy.

Climate change is extinguishing lands and inhabitants, calling for global responsibility for the preservation of the environment. The rate of refugees is flooding cities that are already over-populated, making the definition of “security” controversial. A male-dominated representation of diplomacy is no longer viable within an interconnected world where women matter. Diplomats must be able to represent the whole of society without remaining blinded to gender.

International Women's Day (IWD) is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

Ever since women joined the Chinese diplomatic corps in the late 1940s, they have slowly but surely made their way to the highest leadership positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Up to today, around 10 percent of ambassadorial positions from 160 Chinese diplomatic missions overseas are filled by women.

Despite improvements in recent years in China and worldwide, however, the number of women in senior diplomatic positions is seriously underrepresented, and women are still struggling to break huge barriers into the diplomatic hierarchy.

Fu Ying, chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress of China, addresses the Munich Security Conference on February 13, 2016.

When Madeleine Albright served as the US permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, she used to speak of the G7. She was not referring to the Group of Seven nations, a rich-countries club of the world's most advanced economies.

Rather, she was describing the paltry number of female ambassadors at the UN. Two decades later, there were 31 female permanent representatives in the UN in 2014, a record number in the history, but 84 percent of the ambassadors at the UN were men.

So the bad news is, for the ordinary women who have an interest in, and passion for, the art and craft of diplomacy and international relations, the first challenge in reality could be how to break up the old-boys club.

And there is good news: countries and international organizations are increasingly inclined to adhere to the trends of modern diplomacy in which men and women are represented equally based on merit and standing.