On May 26th 2015, IR Soc hosted Her Excellency Ruth Elizabeth Rouse, former High Commissioner for Grenada to the United Kingdom. In a first for IR Soc, the talk was conducted via a live video conference call with Rouse seated at her desk in Grenada, the Caribbean Sea in view behind her.
Rouse’s talk was entitled, ‘the challenges faced by women in the diplomatic service’ and was based on her masters and doctoral thesis of the same name. She began by explaining that before the 1970s there were very few female diplomats and their only role within embassies or overseas mission were as secretarial or support staff. Though opportunities have since opened up for women in the last 40 years, the bar remains high for women, who need to prove themselves just to be considered for a posting.
Once becoming a chief of mission, women from small island nations have to juggle running the domestic and official sides of their lives. Male chiefs of mission would bring their spouse to run the residency or be able to hire staff. But the husbands of female diplomats rarely travel with their wives as they have careers back home or are unwilling to follow their wives around the world and the female heads of mission are not given the resources to hire a large staff. Rouse and women like her were expected to do it all and often had to sacrifice their family life in order to serve their country.
Despite this Rouse believes there is a future in diplomacy for women. She helped establish the ‘Women in Diplomatic Service Group’ which works to improve the situation for women in diplomacy and provide scholarships for young female diplomats. But regardless of gender being a diplomat is a very difficult job and as Rouse stated, diplomats must put “country before self.”