Women’s Empowerment in the Foreign Service

The World & Vietnam - The Forum on Women’s Empowerment in the Foreign Service in the Digital Age took place in Ha Noi on 3 October 2019. This is an initiative to implement the MOU signed between the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Participants at the Forum
Participants at the Forum

This is the first step towards implementing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minster Pham Binh Minh and Senator of Australia, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women Marise Payne on 12 June 2019, on “The empowerment of women in the foreign service for comprehensive and extensive international integration in the digital age”.

H.E. Amb. Bui Thanh Son, First Deputy Minister, MOFA of Vietnam, delivered a speech at the Forum. Ambassador Nguyen Nguyet Nga, Honorary President of the ASEAN Women's Circle in Ha Noi (AWCH), spoke at a seminar on policies.

H.E. Ms. Julie Heckscher, First Assistant Secretary at DFAT, Australian Ambassador to Vietnam H.E. Ms. Robyn Mudie, Australian Ambassadors to China, Myanmar and high-level diplomats and other senior officials from DFAT also gathered at the forum.

Pioneering role of MOFA

During the forum, policy dialogues on empowering women and develop diplomact skills set in the digital age were taking place. Following the forum, a training session on “Gender Norms in the Workplace” would be held on the 4th October. The forum focused on skills set that women in diplomacy should be equipped with to optimize their advantages thereby enhancing their contributions in the digital age. 

In recent years, the gender balance at Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, Australia and many other countries has been improved. In previous decades, foreign service was dominated by males, but currently the rate of female diplomats is above 40% and even nearly 60% in some countries. 

This forum demonstrates Vietnam’s MOFA as a pioneer in the strengthening of international cooperation on gender equality in the digital age. It also shows the pioneering role of MOFA in building capacity of female officers in response to the impacts of digital technology on various areas, including the public services. The forum also helps promote the bilateral cooperation between the two Ministries in areas of interest to both, thereby enhancing strategic partnership and boosting the collaboration between the two Ministries and Governments.

Capitalising on women’s advantages 

In a foreign relations event, H.E. Ambassador Nguyen Nguyet Nga emphasised on the important role of women in foreign service. At any era, according to the Ambassador Nguyen Nguyet Nga, there is always a need for female diplomats to develop and maintain their advantages such as charm and tenderness, which blows new wind to the foreign service sector. “We often say that we need to promote the soft power of Vietnam. Vietnamese women look beautiful in Ao Dai, and their gestures are kind and caring.” Ambassador Nguyen Nguyet Nga added.

Being an experienced female diplomat, H.E. Ambassador Le Thi Tuyet Mai, Director of Law and International Treaties Department, shared that she had always received support from the MOFA leadership and other male colleagues, and this motivated her to try her best in fulfilling her job. 

According to Ambassador Le Thi Tuyet Mai, female diplomats feel more confident nowadays because they received formal professional training. She stressed that experienced officers are often willing to pass their knowledge, experience and passion on to younger generations. 

Ambassador Le Thi Tuyet Mai indicated that, digital technology is an useful tool for female officers to save their time on processing the information and doing their work. The digitalisation also provides women with easy access to family and children care taking ‘secrets’. According to her, technology also helps female workers narrow the gap with their families, communicate with their friends while they are on business or on posting. The increase in the number of females in foreign service also creates a need for women to develop their soft skills, so as to understand and help each other at work. 

Ms. Nguyen Minh Hang, Director of Multilateral Economic Cooperation Department, Head of Women’s Union at MOFA, indicated that female officers in foreign service currently account for 43,92%, being the highest rate throughout the 75 years of history of Vietnam’s diplomacy. 

Special attention to and steering on women’s work at MOFA has always been paid by H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh, the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, the MOFA Labour Union and leaders. Favorable conditions and incentives are offered to female officers in promotion, posting and training. The rate of females taking high positions at MOFA is above the average rate of other ministries and branches at central level. 

Ms. Nguyen Minh Hang stressed that every female diplomat should keep trying to improve herself and to work effectively. Female officers should maintain enthusiasm, desire for learning, try to overcome challenges to accomplish the tasks assigned. 

A platform for sharing

Ambassador Le Thi Tuyet Mai highly appreciated the outcomes of the forum and believed that this had offered a platform for sharing and learning experience from female diplomats from Australian and other countries, where gender equality is promoted.

Being the second female Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, and a high-level diplomat who has taken on various positions in bilateral and multilateral relations, H.E. Ambassador Robyn Mudie shared her personal experience and the “Women’s Leadership Strategy 2015” of DAT. This strategy provided Australian women with valuable tools to take on important positions in Australia’s foreign service. 

The Ambassador Robyn Mudie believed that this forum offered a great opportunity for tightening the relationship between the two Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam and Australia.

Source: The World & Vietnam

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