Women Power in Diplomacy (6)-30 Pct of New Diplomats Women in '99

Article excerpt

With the growing importance of international relations in the global era, men in drab suits usually form the Korean delegation to international gatherings, with only a small number of women diplomats taking part.

But now an increasing number of women are cited to colorfully fill those seats, as more Korean women expand their career options to the diplomatic field.

In the 1999 state-run foreign service examination, which serves as the main gateway for diplomatic hopefuls, six out of the 20 successful applicants were women. Since 1978, when the first woman passed the exam, this is the highest success rate for them so far. It took another six years for another woman to pass the exam.

As of February this year, a total of 57 women are working as diplomats, accounting for 4.8 percent of the total 1,185.

Until the early 1990s, only a handful of women were engaged in foreign service, but the numbers started to climb in the late 1990s, with about a 20 percent success rate in the exams in recent years.

In 1997, 20.4 percent of total applicants for the service was female, with the rate growing to 23.6 percent in 1998 and over 30 percent this year.

``Diplomacy jobs have been attracting many women since it is a profession that gives them equal opportunities,'' said an official of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry.

The government introduced a 10 percent quota for women in 1996 to give them more public jobs. However, excluding one female that benefited from the quota in the first year it was applied, the women's success rate surpassed the quota.

``I want to work abroad and meet people from diverse cultural backgrounds,''' said Cho Su-jin, 26, one of the six women who passed the exam last year. After working for one and a half years at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she will be eligible for a two-year training course abroad.

``Despite the benefits and the high status that diplomats enjoy, men and women both face difficulty in holding a family life together overseas,'' said Kim Kyung-im, 51, deputy director-general of the cultural affairs bureau at the ministry. The first woman to pass the foreign service exam in 1978, Kim is currently the highest ranking woman diplomat in Korea.

The situation is somewhat better for men since it is understood that their wife and children will accompany them. But in the case of women, the issue of marriage often serves as a barrier for women who aspire to be a diplomat, according to Kim.

``We have been trying to accommodate married women officials by posting them in the countries where their husbands work, or by posting the couple, if both husband and wife are diplomats, in the same country'' said an official in charge of personnel affairs at the ministry. …