“An ambassador is not just an emissary but a bridge, a mediator between cultures and countries.” – Robert Blackwill
Ambassadors are among the key cogs in the conduct of diplomacy. They are responsible for promoting their respective countries’ national interests, negotiating and navigating with policymakers, providing information and recommendations based on ground information, facilitating diplomatic and economic relations, and promoting the home countries in the host countries, among others. Essentially, they are the face of their home countries and the bridge to the host countries.
Besides their roles, the ‘face’ of the ambassadors can also be a source of signaling. For example, the profile of the ambassadors appointed could hint at the importance of the country and the kind of image the home country would like to project abroad.
I have briefly analyzed what ambassadors’ ‘faces’ hint at in this article from a gendered lens. To do so, I have looked at the resident ambassadors from foreign countries to Nepal, including the UN country representative (or the last ambassador if there is no ambassador currently appointed, and current Nepali ambassadors stationed in Nepali embassies abroad from a gendered lens. The summary is just a snapshot of the scenario and not a trend. Hence, this should not be over-generalized or extrapolated to analyze the ‘face’ of specific countries across time and space. Also, the article does not compare the effectiveness of the roles performed by ambassadors of various genders, though that is an area for further research.
The following table provides the summary:
The table shows that eight of the 26 resident foreign ambassadors in Kathmandu (including the UN Country representative) are women. The women ambassadors account for one in three resident ambassadors. Among the OECD members (including the UN), half of the 12 ambassadors are women. Sri Lanka and Egypt are the only two women ambassadors from non-OECD countries. The UN and the OECD members have been at the forefront of promoting gender equality in Nepal. Their appointment of ambassadors reflects that message.
On the other side, Nepal has 30 embassies abroad and three permanent UN missions. Of the 33 ambassadors, only three are women. In other words, Nepal has appointed ten men ambassadors for every one woman ambassador. This shows that, despite government policies, men dominate Nepal’s diplomacy. The three women ambassadors are appointed to the OECD member countries (Israel, South Korea, and Spain). It could be because Nepal wants to portray progress made on gender equality in those advanced countries which largely provide aid in the sector.
Nepal has taken critical legal steps to ensure women’s representation in the political, bureaucratic, and social arena. Despite the efforts, most areas are highly male-dominated with some token women representation. Even at the MoFA, the senior posts (joint secretaries) are men-dominated. In this context, the lower number of women ambassadors only reflects the limited presence of women in diplomacy. Women’s presence is also negligible among the ‘foreign policy experts’ outside formal diplomacy.
In this context, the government should prioritize the appointment of women ambassadors based on political affiliation/expertise to compensate for the numerical gap at the senior level in the MoFA until MoFA becomes more representative at the senior level. It is high time that Nepal’s face is represented abroad by ‘representative’ ambassadors.
This blog is a part of NIPoRe’s blog series on Women’s History Month 2023.