Referring to the low number of female Slovak ambassadors, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that Slovakia has a “historical and institutional debt”. She adds that the new board vowed to address the situation. A more transparent selection process or even a gender audit are a way to do that.
At the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, 51.6 percent of women currently occupy diplomatic and non-diplomatic positions. Out of eight general directors, there are only three women, while of 41 department directors, the ministry has appointed only 18 females to lead them.
Although data show that there is a sufficient number of female diplomats at the department, out of 70 ambassador posts, only 11 are occupied by women.
“The Department of Diplomacy certainly has no shortage of quality female professionals,” says Denisa Frelichová, coordinator for the position of women, diversity and inclusion at the Department of Diplomacy.
At the round-table discussion, organized by the EURACTIV Slovakia portal with the support of the Heinrich Boll Foundation, several experts discussed how to bring more opportunities for women in Slovak diplomacy.
Activities of the resort
Modern diplomacy has been undergoing a massive change over the recent years. The traditionally “male domain” is now more inclusive and actively seeks “new blood”. The developed countries are now aware of how important a place women occupy at the negotiating tables. Countless research papers confirm the added value they bring, especially in terms of foreign policy.
Referring to the low number of female Slovak ambassadors, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ingrid Brocková, says that Slovakia has a “historical and institutional debt” while also praising efforts and support of the new leadership. “Both the former minister Korčok and the new minister Káčer understand that the topic has long been sidelined and vowed to support every effort in this regard”.
The Ministry takes the topic seriously and regularly organizes various events to raise awareness of this issue among employees and other representatives. The Department of Diplomacy emphasizes not only gender equality issue, but also devotes its efforts to tackling issues such as environmental protection and human rights. When drawing up new strategic documents on primary areas of interest, drafters bear in mind the topics of equal opportunities and inclusivity and reflect on the gender-related issues.
The resort organizes “Women in Diplomacy Week”, a public event that has taken place twice so far, in March 2021 and March 2022, always around International Women's Day. Following the model of the European External Action Service, the ministry also launched the Women's Fridays campaign - every first Friday of the month the ministry presents the story of a successful Slovak woman who has made a name for herself abroad. The resort also became a signatory of the Diversity Charter.
“Speaking of diversity and inclusion, we are currently focusing primarily on women because we feel that it is the right thing to do. But we must go even further,” says Ingrid Brocková while emphasizing the need for equal opportunities for both genders. She also says that the discussion on equality “needs to find its way into the broader society and involve as many people as possible”.
Women have their place at the negotiating table and are an essential component of foreign policy decision-making, experts say. Their words have been also confirmed by research. To make women feel welcome and include them in the process of decision making, it is necessary to involve a larger number of men in the discussions, too.
Solutions at hand
The department has several options how to address the visible imbalance in representation.
One of them is a transparent selection procedure. One does not have to go far to get inspired. In the next few months, the Spanish parliament is about to pass an amendment addressing the ambassador selection process. Although the final decision regarding the candidate remains in the hands of the government, all eligible candidates are welcome to send applications to the open selection process. From these, the departmental commission selects a short list of those it will recommend to the minister or the government. In Slovakia, the process of selecting top representatives of the department, including ambassadors, remains in the hands of the top management.
A gender audit can also have a significant impact. Although it does very little to balance the gender differences in the top management positions, it will provide the department with a complex picture of what opportunities it offers to men, women and other marginalized groups internally.
Today, gender audits are a standard part of evaluations of modern institutions in developed countries. Their aim is to evaluate gender equality in organizations, including their policies, programs, structures, service provision, procedures, and budget redistribution. The only Slovak public institution to pass such an audit so far is the Slovak Academy of Sciences. The largest universities are expected to join, too, as certain EU’s programs require institutions applying for grants to undergo such an audit.
While gender audits have been taking place in the Czech Republic for twelve years already, with the Czech Government Office completing its re-audit, Slovakia lags behind a big time. For now, only the Slovak private sector is catching up.
The Department of Diplomacy, as a modern Slovak institution, could also look into possibilities of undergoing such a process and thus inspire other ministries to do the same, suggest the experts of the round table. According to Denisa Frelichová, networking at the national level, between departments, but also non-profits, academia and business world works “very well”.
According to Ingrid Brocková, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic already has a lot of data and statistics at its disposal, but there is an internal discussion going on about how to “read them so that we can keep track of trends in the implementation of specific measures”.
Originally published in Slovak on euractiv.sk within a joint project Women as foreign-policy actresses.