Twelve Lady Ambassadors to Indonesia Discuss Their Roles as an Inspiration to Others and the Challenges Facing Women Today
TEXT: Tara Marchelin and Iwan Martinas Putuhena; ART DIRECTION: Sari Kusumaningrum; PHOTOS: Gugun A. Suminarto; SHOT ON LOCATION: Lobo Restaurant at The Ritz Carlton Jakarta, Mega Kuningan
H.E Valerica Epure; Ambassador of Romania
These days, a lot of women from many countries are involved in the diplomatic service. Ambassador Valerica Epure is convinced that this is proof that women can be whatever they want if they put their mind to it. “People should follow the career that suits them most. Be sure of what you want, work hard and everything is possible. Dream big and you will be amazed how much you can achieve,” she notes. In addition to that, for the ambassador, a successful woman should also help other women to pursue their dreams because it will be part of their legacy if they succeed in helping fellow women to reach their potential.
Ambassador Valerica thinks that the challenge for women nowadays is how to find the right balance amongst many priorities such as family, work, social life, and their ‘me time’. However, she assures that a determined woman will find solutions for everything. “It is also pretty much on us, as mothers, to educate our children that they are equal and that they should have the right to choose and have equal rights and opportunities,” the ambassador adds.
“People should follow the career that suits them most. Be sure of what you want, work hard and everything is possible. Dream big and you will be amazed how much you can achieve”
H.E. Judit Pach; Ambassador of Hungary
Ambassador Judit Pach finds that there will always be challenges and obstacles for women. She sees, in a lot of fields, there is still a glass ceiling and a lot of misunderstandings and preconceptions toward women, which need to be proven wrong. “As a young female ambassador, I usually face the issue that I’m not taken seriously. I need to prove my capability much more than my young male colleagues. I’m much more judged on my looks and behaviour and in a hierarchical system where people are used to male leadership it’s harder to gain respect,” she explains.
However, Ambassador Judit Pach believes women can always overcome those challenges and obstacles. She admits that it’s getting easier to tackle the challenges as more women are in leading positions, and it’s progressively shifting. In fact, the ambassador finds there are a lot of advantages that come along with it. “Being different as the average makes you more recognizable and as a woman, you have a whole array of different techniques and skills, which you can use to your advantage. In my experience, every obstacle can be overcome with a good portion of creativity, patience and a dash of humor,” she says.
“In my experience, every obstacle can be overcome with a good portion of creativity, patience and a dash of humor”
H.E. Phavanh Nuanthasing; Ambassador of The Laos People’s Democratic Republic
Ambassador Phavanh Nuanthasing simply explains that in order for women to be successful, first, they must be well educated and learn from both success and failure. Second, they should be strong both physically and mentally, because as a woman they need to work efficiently and effectively as a man. Third, have a sense of leadership, and finally, the family is very important factors for their success.
“In the past, in many countries, including Laos, by old tradition and custom, women can only do housework, take care of the husband, raise children and so on. Now in Laos, women, and men have equal rights, and women have more opportunities to work, study, and have a better life,” she explains. However, the ambassador notes that although women’s rights are protected by International Treaties and Conventions, risks are still faced by women today mainly in the areas of healthcare, access to economic resources, customary practices, sexual violence, and human trafficking..
“Education is the key to success in this rapidly changing society and the world. Women have to obtain awareness about themselves, their rights, responsibilities and they should be well educated as women,” she concludes.
“Education is the key to success in this rapidly changing society and the world. Women have to obtain awareness about themselves”
H.E. Helene Steinhausl; Ambassador of the Republic of Austria
For centuries, people have always seen the Foreign Service as a male-dominated world but things have changed. At least in Austria where a female ambassador is not unusual any more and Ambassador Helene Steinhausl is very grateful for this privilege that has opened her path to be what she is today.
Although people always celebrate the changes women have reached, Ambassador Helene realizes that in daily life women may not always find real equal opportunities. “Women are empowered and hold every important position that one can imagine, but even in our western societies, there is still a need for improvement. This is where Government policies are needed, for example, to reach full equal rights in the labour market and concerning salaries. Also within families inequality and violence continue to exist,” she explains.
Therefore, according to Ambassador Helene, it’s important to constantly talk about these issues which can be started in schools in order to change the mindset of the people that men and women are equal. “Women also have to continue standing up for their rights and will not be silent about discrimination, but my wish and hope is that also men join us in this struggle,” she adds.
“Government policies are needed, for example, to reach full equal rights in the labour market and concerning salaries”
H.E. Deborah HO; Ambassador of the Republic of Panama
When it comes to encouraging young women, there are three advises that Ambassador Deborah Ho always conveyed: to be honest, to not give up, and to trust themselves. Moreover, from her perspective, when women want something, they will be persistent to accomplish it because women have perseverance characteristic. “I have always been very persistent when I start something. Of course, some things might take longer but that is not a reason to make me give up at the first problem encountered. As a woman Ambassador, having confidence in myself has made me successful in what I put my work on. That plus being persistent makes me accomplish my purposes in my personal life as well,” she adds.
The ambassador finds that there are a lot of challenges women faced today but those issues, certainly, are less than a few years ago. Even so, Ambassador Deborah Ho believes that progressively women will make most of these remaining challenges disappear. “It’s not an easy job and it’s not going to disappear like magic, but we have to continue to educate the women of the future to find her worth as a human being and then each woman will find her rightful place and purpose in this world,” she concludes.
“It’s not an easy job and it’s not going to disappear like magic, but we have to continue to educate the women of the future”
H.E. Beata Stoczyńska; Ambassador of the Republic of Poland
From Ambassador Beata Stoczynska perspective, the challenge for women in the present world is balancing their career and their family life. The ambassador realizes that it requires a lot of hard work, good organization of life, and family support but she believes it’s possible to be achieved. Other than that, women also have to face poor education and healthcare. “The countries should do more to invest in these spheres. The challenges that the world faces can be overcome only by people. So the people are the best investment. This concept, known as the Human Capital Project, was prominent during the IMF/WB Summit in Bali last year. Both Poland and Indonesia support it,” she explains. Recently, Poland also supported a project by an organization from Flores which aimed to educate mothers from rural areas about proper nutrition to combat children stunting.
Moreover, Ambassador Beata encourages all the girls and women to keep up their education since, today, there are a lot of instruments for talented girls and women to achieve a world-class education. “My message to all ambitious girls and women is simple: invest in your education. Chase knowledge with perseverance. Do not give up your university. Pursue student exchanges. Learn languages. This is the best and surest way to success,” she says.
“My message to all ambitious girls and women is simple: invest in your education. Chase knowledge with perseverance. Do not give up your university. Pursue student exchanges. Learn languages. This is the best and surest way to success”
H.E. Lyudmila Georgievna Vorobieva; Ambassador of the Russian Federation
Ambassador Lyudmila Vorobieva admits that as a young girl, she never dreamed to become an Ambassador because during the Soviet Union era women were not admitted to the foreign service. But today, each year around 30 % of the newly hired staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia are women. “From my point of view, success can be achieved, no matter who you are through hard work, patience, perseverance and a little bit of luck,” she says. “But what is also obvious to me, the present environment is much more favourable for women to be successful not only in their family lives but careers as well than it used to be, perceptions have changed considerably,” she adds.
In Russia the issue of gender equality is not acute, women are well educated and constitute more than half of the labour force. “In modern Russia, both men and women attach great importance to social success. There are many women now who seek social and personal success on a level that never existed before,” she explains. “Our society has yet to get adjusted to this new situation and the needs of women in term of self-expression and self-realization,” she concludes.
“There are many women now who seek social and personal success on a level that never existed before”
H.E. Phasporn Sangasubana; Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to ASEAN
Three advises that Ambassador Phasporn Sangasubana always gives to the young women are to be confident in yourself and undertakings, to give full efforts in your work and to be happy with the results and to be open-minded and listen to the voices of others. Those are the key to be successful, especially as a woman ambassador. When it comes to work, according to her, women have some strength that should be utilized to the maximum, such as sensitivity, warmth, and detailed.
However, Ambassador Phasporn finds that Women are still in the lower tier when compare with men. She believes education will be the key to improve the condition of women. Thus, Thailand as the present ASEAN Chair in 2019, is establishing various ASEAN centers that will create platforms for women to voice out their interest and concerns in various areas such as sustainable development, active ageing, and innovation. “I am certain as ASEAN is moving forward to the better future, women, and girls will find immense opportunities for them to be part and owner of ASEAN,” she says.
“I am certain as ASEAN is moving forward to the better future, women, and girls will find immense opportunities for them to be part and owner of ASEAN”
H.E. Dziunik Aghajanian; Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia
Ambassador Dziunik Aghajanian acknowledges that being a professional woman in a man’s world is not easy. Most often, a woman has to be extremely qualified to go up the career ladder. However, the world has changed since she entered the world of diplomacy, which was previously considered an exclusively male profession. “Even now sometimes one can face remnants of dominant attitudes but it changes very quickly when they get to know you as a person and professional and appreciate the skills and qualities you bring,” she explains. “I think women contribute by cooperative attitude and work ethics to a competitive world of men,” she adds.
With all of her accomplishments, Ambassador Dziunik Aghajanian doesn’t think of herself as a role model. As one of the first to enter the newly established Foreign Service of Armenia, she only hopes that the work she has done would encourage others, both men and women, to enter the incredibly interesting, very demanding and extremely responsible world.
In her perspective, one of the challenges facing women today is finding the right balance between family and career. “It is about the choices to be made and having the courage to pursue the targets one has put in life” she concludes.
“Women contribute by cooperative attitude and work ethics to a competitive world of men”
H.E. Elizabeth P. Buensuceso; Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Philippines to ASEAN
Permanent Representative of the Philippines to ASEAN, H.E. Elizabeth P. Buensuceso always inculcate her staff and colleagues the value of teamwork. She teaches her colleagues to have “malasakit,” a Filipino term which means caring for the work, caring for others, caring for the country in a very personal and absorbed way. “Whatever we do, be it taking good care of the Mission premises or negotiating an important agreement, we should give it our best. We should not be contented with good; we can be the best,” she notes. “I tell people that adversity is the requisite ingredient for success if we face up to it and conquer it,” she adds.
According to H.E. Elizabeth P. Buensuceso, there are several challenges that face women today, first is equal pay, where the existing gap between genders is most clearly visible. Second is trafficking, wherein 2015, the IOM reported that they assisted 7000 victims of trafficking, 25 % of whom came from ASEAN countries. Third, the political participation of women where there is a very low rate of women joining politics. And finally, the cultural attitude that women, especially the young ones and those who have been endowed with beautiful features are intellectually inferior to men.
“I tell people that adversity is the requisite ingredient for success if we face up to it and conquer it”
H.E. Marina Berg; Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden
Ambassador Marina Berg admits that she always has a deep interest in international relations and personal relations, what forms relations and what makes them long-lasting. “To be a good manager and Ambassador, you have to see people as the greatest and most important asset in the diplomatic work. I do, and I try every day to show it,” she proudly explains. “This is actually very much being myself. That is also how I want to be seen as a “role model”. As a manager you have to be yourself,” she says.
According to Ambassador Marina Berg, the challenges facing women today is differs from country to country, however, in a general level, she believes that we need to change our mind, try to see above gender and instead see everyone as a human being with equal rights and to treat everyone on the same terms. “To change mindsets, there are steps that every country has to take, and it has to be in cooperation between the Government, the society through civil society organizations and the private sector. As a solid base there have to be political reforms supporting the changes,” she concludes.
“To be a good manager and Ambassador, you have to see people as the greatest and most important asset in the diplomatic work”
H.E. Olivia Leslie; Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland
Ambassador Olivia Leslie notes that a significant part of her duty is promoting equality for all and empowering women and girls to succeed, which is an essential component of achieving greater equality. According to Ambassador Olivia Leslie, there are real challenges to face before true equality can be achieved. “Globally, women’s political and economic voices are not equal. Women are still subject to significant domestic and conflict related violence, and girls’ access to education is often curtailed,” she explains. “That is why Ireland is prioritizing gender equality in our new development aid policy A Better World. Without progress on the fundamental rights of women and girls, we will simply not be able to reach the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals,” she adds.
In the workplace, Ambassador Olivia Leslie sees that women still face conscious and unconscious bias, which can impact their progression. Changing this requires the culture of organisations to be addressed by leadership. “I believe strongly in women’s networks and in peer support groups and would encourage everyone to get involved. I’ve had inspiring female and male mentors in my career and believe that support can be transformational in helping us reach our goals,” she concludes.
“Without progress on the fundamental rights of women and girls, we will simply not be able to reach the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals”