Pakistan’s first lady Ambassador was Madam Begum Raana Liaquat Ali, wife of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, however, she was a political appointee. The formal Foreign Service was not open to women until 1973, when the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took the step of inducting women into Pakistan’s diplomatic corps in Foreign Service Reforms. In 1st Common in 1973, there was only one lady who entered the Pakistan Foreign Service, Fauzia Nasreen. In the second common in 1974, there was no lady officer and in the third common, Asma Aneesa entered Foreign Service. In 1983, there were three lady officers, and in subsequent years, the Pakistan Foreign Service saw a decent increase in women’s induction.
Today, Pakistan has six grade 20/21/22 lady officers working in different parts of the world as Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and heads of Missions. Out of the total of 516 FSP officers, 113 are lady officers. To add, the incumbent spokesperson of MoFA is a senior lady officer, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch.
Debunking the myths:
The investigation in this article is based on primary data collected after taking interviews with two renowned Pakistani ambassadors with 30+ years of diplomatic service. Secondary sources are also used, which meaningfully complement the primary data. After investigating, interviewing, and discussing women diplomats in Pakistan with the interviewees, it appeared consequential to present the myths regarding the role of women, discrimination against women, and their underrepresentation. Therefore, this section is dedicated to debunking those myths and presenting facts obtained from primary sources.
- Women are not easily given a chance to represent Pakistan:
The most pervasive misconception in the discussion of women in Pakistani diplomacy is that they are kept in junior to midlevel careers, for it’s an old boys’ school. Academics and researchers have maintained that Pakistan is falling behind in giving its women the chance to represent their nation. However, the fact is that the head start of women was late in the diplomatic corps (1973), along with the fact that women did not initially perceive the Foreign Service as a stable profession for them.
It takes nearly 25-28 years of Foreign Service to become an Ambassador in Pakistan. All the women who joined in the 70s and 80s are now diplomats, representing Pakistan fully.
- Lady Officers cannot balance personal and professional life:
There widely exists an opinion that women in the diplomatic corps of Pakistan cannot balance their personal and professional lives as they are bound to move from one country to another which comprises their relationships with their spouses and children. According to the people inside the diplomatic corps, this is not the reality. The interviewees asserted that every relationship in the world is based on common grounds, mutual understanding, and compromises. Wives of diplomats or husbands of diplomats require as much understanding as any other spouse of a working partner. The service provides and facilitates women to keep their postings where their husbands are, whenever it is feasible.
- Pakistani women cannot handle the pressure of the service:
The myth is broken by the exemplary performances of the women themselves. For example, during the anti-government campaign in Cairo in 2011, Pakistani Ambassador Seema Naqvi single-handedly managed to evacuate 700 Pakistani nationals, for which she received international applause. Adding to that, Ambassador Naghmana Hashmi was the ambassador of Pakistan to China during the peak COVID pandemic in the country. Despite pressure to evacuate and shut down the embassy, the ambassador continued consular services and addressed the concerns of Pakistani students and other diaspora members in isolation. Ayesha Farouqi, the consul general, provided another noteworthy illustration in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. From 2016 until 2019, Ayesha Farouqi served as the consul general in Houston, Texas (USA). She maintained the embassy open throughout the severe weather and flooding to serve the Pakistani diaspora and evacuated any worried Pakistanis who were in danger. She was well-regarded in the diplomatic community as well for her gallant service.
- Women Ambassadors are not sent to the highest capitals and multilateral missions:
The highest capitals and multilateral missions are supposed to be more complex, and difficult, and there exists a myth that women are not sent to those missions. In reality, women are not sent to India, as there exists no diplomatic relation with India. Women have been sent to multilateral missions; Ambassador Naghmana Hashmi has represented Pakistan in the EU and Belgium. The current representative is also a woman, Ambassador Amna Baloch. Adding to that, Ambassador Ayesha Riaz, known for her excellent intellect, has served Pakistan in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IEAE). Furthermore, the most celebrated Female Ambassador of Pakistan (although a political appointee), Maleeha Lodhi, has served as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN from 2015–2019. Similarly, Madam Naghmana Hashmi served Pakistan in China from 2003–2007 as Deputy Head of Mission and in 2020 as Ambassador.
- Women are not allowed to go to culturally conservative countries:
This notion was true until the end of the Cold War, during which women were restricted to working in China, Africa, Morocco, and Arab world countries as China’s communism was different from the Soviet in intensity and nature, and Arabs and Africans were not accepting women as diplomats. However, today, there is no such concept as not sending lady officers to culturally conservative countries. In 2018, Ambassador Fouzia Fayyaz became the first-ever female diplomat serving in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Likewise, Ambassador Riffat Massod became the first female Pakistani Ambassador to the Republic of Iran.
The Trailblazing Impact of Pakistani Women Diplomats:
Pakistani Women in diplomacy have proven to be part and parcel of diplomacy. The induction of Pakistani women immediately sanitized the institution of diplomacy with fresh perspectives. Pakistani Women are hard-working, vigilant, and full of compassion. They have raised important issues in multilateral and global forums.
They are the emblem of confidence. Significantly, Pakistani women diplomats have done an effective job of not only providing diplomatic and consular services but also building a more positive and healthy perception of Pakistan.
Women diplomats of Pakistan, in their traditional dresses of Shalwar, Kameez, and Dupatta with the Pakistani flag on the attire have represented their country as a liberal, peaceful, inclusive, and progressing country, contrary to the intersubjective identity of Pakistan as conservative and discriminatory towards women shaped by the crisis of terrorism and hostile neighbors. With that, the women diplomats of Pakistan are way ahead of male diplomats in handling the conservative diaspora of Pakistan overseas. Women diplomats in Europe have done a tremendous job of engaging the women diaspora and initiating women-inclusive activities at the embassies. Overall, women diplomats have added value to Pakistan’s diplomacy by strengthening its missions and its soft image.
Foreign Service, or diplomatic service, is a clean, interesting, and honorable job for both men and women. The service provides a broader horizon and a great opportunity for self-development. Gender discrimination is a social phenomenon that exists in every work environment, however, the world has improved a lot in removing this disparity. Diplomatic services did have great disparities in the past, but the time has changed now. Pakistan, particularly, has produced one of the largest number of lady officers in the diplomatic corps. Women are leading, their authority is acceptable, and they are rubbing shoulders with their male counterparts. Henceforth, women should be encouraged and assisted in joining diplomatic services since they have a significant role to play in diplomacy.
The author is a sophomore at the National Defence University, Islamabad. And a Researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI). She has a keen interest in foreign policy analysis, geopolitics, and concepts of the emerging world (particularly climate change and technological advancement). She tweets @AyeshaZee_