Academic journal article Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations

Cracks in the IR Glass: The Evolving Relationship between International Relations & Gender Equality

Academic journal article Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations

Cracks in the IR Glass: The Evolving Relationship between International Relations & Gender Equality

Article excerpt


It is often said that if more women were at the helm of foreign policy, there would be more peace in the world. However, and despite the fact that women have played important roles, there is little research about the actual foundations of this claim.

While female leadership is increasingly gaining momentum, women involved in International Relations-related jobs, be it in academia, diplomacy, international organizations, government or international business, are still facing more difficulties than in other areas in climbing the seniority ladder.

Also, despite evidence of women's role in the diplomatic and international arena, the core historical narrative of international politics remained depleted of women.1

This article will review the status of women in International Relations (IR), discuss the main reasons why breaking the glass ceiling is more difficult in international relations than in other areas, and what can be done to change the situation.


Sumerian city-states used diplomats to convey messages among kings. Diplomats existed in ancient India and China as far back as the 3rd and 2nd century BC. In Europe, diplomacy began with the first Greek city-states. Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and China were the first states that perpetuated environments of diplomacy. In Europe, early modern diplomacy's origins are often traced to the states of Northern Italy in the Early Renaissance. By the late 16th century, permanent missions became customary. The top rank representative was an ambassador. At that time an ambassador was a nobleman, as they were required to have large residences, host lavish parties, and play an important role in the court life of their host nations.

In those pre-modern centuries, when marriages defined the political map of Europe, royal wives and their ladies-in-waiting were recognized by their contemporaries as major diplomatic actors. Not to mention the role of Queens: the cooperation between Queen Mariana and Maria Theresa of Austria to achieve the marriage of Carlos II of Spain to the French Princess Marie Louise, a union that brought 14 years of Franco-Spanish conflict to the end, provides a telling example.2 In Renaissance Italy, dynastic brides were expected to perform diplomatic tasks from the earliest stages of marriage. Noblewomen destined for notable political union were trained to deliver speeches to foreign powers and to dictate and write letters in correct chancery style, so they could participate fully in official diplomatic networks and correspondence, as well as keep in touch with their influential relatives.3

By the XVII century, the title of Ambassadrice was given to women who accompanied their spouses to foreign posting and envoys were increasingly selected with consideration to the dynastic capital of their wives.4

As permanent foreign ministries began to be established in almost all European states to coordinate embassies and their staffs, the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) represented a turning point in European diplomacy: by establishing an international system diplomatic ranking and professionalizing diplomacy, women were essentially cut out.5 Meanwhile, in the new American republic, women were prohibited from working on government property and thus could not be hired by the Department of State or other federal agencies. They did, however, represent their country as wives of Diplomatic and Consular Service personnel serving abroad. Spouses were expected to socialize with their foreign counterparts, host receptions in their homes, volunteer for various charities and, in the latter part of their diplomat husband's career, mentor the wives of lower-ranking officers. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, was one of the first spouses to assist her husband in his role as an American diplomat as she joined him at his post in Paris in 1784.

In the US, during the 19th century, more and more women were hired as part-time and then regular State Department employees, mainly in clerical jobs. …

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