Australia's Ambassador to Holy See: Women diplomats in Vatican a 'formidable group'

Marking the annual International Day of Women in Diplomacy, Chiara Porro, Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, speaks of the challenges and rewards of the job and of the crucial perspective women bring to international relations.

By Francesca Merlo

"It's wonderful to be celebrating women in diplomacy each year", says Chiara Porro, Australia's Ambassador to the Holy See, marking the annual International Day of Women in Diplomacy, celebrated every 24 June. She notes that the diplomatic service has been traditionally male-dominated and recalls her first day of work in the Foreign Service in Australia, "walking down a corridor [decorated only] with portraits of men". 

It's intimidating, she says, and that's particularly because "you can't be what you can't see".

However, she continues, the Australian Foreign Service is one that has addressed this issue head-on, and over the last six years there has been a "real push to promote women in leadership". The figures show this as five or six years ago women made up only 20% of their ambassadors, whereas now "we make up over 40% of all our ambassadors around the world."

“I am proud to be one of these female ambassadors representing Australia overseas.”

Men, women and their diversity

Men and women working together bring diversity, says Chiara Porro. She notes that women can obviously bring a different perspective, based on their gender, but stresses how important it is not to stereotype women. "We're not all the same", she says. "We bring a variety of different qualities, as do men". 

In diplomacy, "we represent the face of our country and it is extremely important that we represent the diversity of it, too", says Ambassador Porro. In this regard, she continues," women enable us to reach parts of society around the world that are not always accessible to men". 

Ambassador Porro highlights the importance of diversity when dealing with conflict and development issues. "We know that women are always the first and most severely affected during conflict during humanitarian disasters", and so "having women working in diplomacy, leading diplomatic efforts is incredibly important to be able to reach those who are most affected in these situations".

Representing First Nations People

Representing the diverse face of the nation as Ambassador, in Australia also means representing the voice of the many First Nations People in the country. Ambassador Porro notes that Australia is home to the oldest continuous living culture in the world, adding that "we are extremely proud of this tradition and culture". 

"It's become very much a central part of our foreign policy to ensure that our First Nations heritage and culture is known around the world. It makes us who we are and so it's incredibly important for us to bring these indigenous voices to the world stage," she says.

Pope Francis has been very vocal and active throughout his pontificate on preserving and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples across the world. 

The Holy See and Australia work well together in this regard and Ambassador Porro notes that just a couple of weeks ago a female aboriginal elder travelled to the Vatican and met with Pope Francis, to whom she spoke about "what her culture brings, her experience in education, her experience with indigenous art, in overcoming barriers, creating bridges between different communities in Australia".

“There are many programmes in place.”

The future of women in diplomacy

 Ambassador Porro expresses her gratitude for having been chosen for this role in the Holy See noting that it has been "incredibly inspiring, over the past three years, to work with my fellow women ambassadors here."

"There are around 25 of us now, even more, if you count some of the attachés, and we're quite a formidable group!" she exclaims.

And noting how this fact has constituted a huge source of support for her, she says, based on how the women have been able to challenge the bias and stereotypes, and on how they have been proactive in bringing their voices to the table and highlighting the particular talents and perspectives they bring as women leaders, she says she  believes the future is bright: "I think there's still a long way to go."

"I think there's growing recognition of what women bring to the table," she says, and added to that, countries are realising that they need to represent their diversity in international diplomacy.

“So I think the future is bright.”

"Be confident and open"

Ambassador Porro concludes with a message of encouragement for those wishing to pursue a career in diplomacy, both women and men:  "I think for all of us, it's really about understanding and valuing what we each bring to the table having confidence in our abilities."

She notes that in particular in this environment, religious sisters often have words of wisdom as they, themselves, manage to bring so much to the table, although as a category they have to increase their confidence.

“What I say is: have confidence in your abilities, and be open to working together.”

This is both for men and women, Ambassador Porro concludes, because we can't make a change and empower women if we don't all work together: "Men need to be very much on board with this agenda as well,  their support is important because it benefits us all."

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24 June 2023, 07:10