Lebanese diplomat to UK policymakers: Middle East needs women in diplomacy

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Karma Ekmekji, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s International Affairs and Relations Advisor, is dedicated to delivering the message that women should be more engaged in diplomacy, politics, and other public arenas.

In the early 1940s, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) revived previous discussions on the possibility of admitting women to the Foreign Service abroad. Those opposed to the move held that women were “less objective than men, less capable of keeping secrets, less good at teamwork, more liable to allow authority to go to their heads, and more prone to let enthusiasm run away with them.”

Sending women overseas for diplomatic missions was seen by some not only as a bad joke, but also as a jeopardy to the country’s foreign relations. There is no doubt that women have come a long way since then, but there is still much ground to cover.

One of the Middle East’s top women diplomats, Ekmekji spoke to the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) during a talk in the British parliament about the importance of women’s inclusion in foreign affairs and diplomacy. She stressed the fact that in 2019, the peak of the digital age, people need to think differently about diplomacy and its dynamics.

The CMEC, which was established 40 years ago under Margaret Thatcher’s government as an information platform and a think tank, exists to help Conservative British parliamentarians gain a better understanding of the Middle East.

Ekmekji uses social media to promote the inclusion of more women in diplomacy under the hashtag “diplowomen,” as well as to change the perception that anything connected to the policy-making process, including diplomacy, is by default a corrupt game. She believes that social media should be embraced by governments and officials, as it has the potential to enact change for the better.

Speaking to Al Arabiya, Ekmekji said that the effort to include more women and promote new ways to practice diplomacy needs cooperation across the board, from governments, corporations, and individuals.

“Every industry seeks improvement and development to the way it conducts its business. The same is happening with diplomacy. We need to find a way to capitalize on the existent technologies to make the world better,” she said.

Ekmekji, a member of the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network, believes that although foreign policy has traditionally been formulated and implemented by men, women are adding more perspective to their countries’ international stances as they join diplomatic circles around the world. Academic research has proven that when women practice diplomacy and become integrated in the peace process, peace agreements are implemented at a higher rate and last longer.

“In an era where women’s movements are achieving solid improvements in regards to rights, equality, and empowerment, it might be time for the Middle East to adopt policies where women lead the peace talks and pave the path for long lasting peace,” she said.

The talk in which Ekmekji participated, themed “women in diplomacy,” was held for an exclusive audience at the British Parliament and organized by the CMEC.

“It is part for our mission to provide a platform for women in politics and diplomacy, to encourage other women who may have been told perhaps that the world of diplomacy isn’t for them, to inspire them to say, ‘Yes, you can do it as well, we certainly need more women in our politics,’” Charlotte Leslie, director of CMEC, told Al Arabiya.

“There is a misguided perception in some parts of the UK that women in Middle East don’t have their views heard, and that couldn’t be more wrong,” she added.

“This event is to show people who may not know better that there are some extraordinary, talented, superb women in politics and diplomacy in Middle East, and Karma is just one of them.”