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Asian women are still a minority in diplomatic positions: this is how we can fix this

  • Written by Athiqah Nur Alami, Researcher at Research Center for Politics, Badan Riset dan Inovasi Nasional (BRIN)
Asian women are still a minority in diplomatic positions: this is how we can fix this

The 2022 Global Gender Gap Report[1] showed Asian countries have managed to narrow the gender gap in economic, education and health sectors. But when it comes to political participation, the gap persists[2].

Studies[3] have shown in most Asian countries, women are still marginalised in the field of international relations. They are underrepresented in ambassadorial positions[4] and their low involvement during negotiation processes[5].

Studies[6] about representation of women in modern diplomacy also assert that in general, Asian women continue to be the minority in this field, with very low percentage.

Despite some progress[7] and efforts[8] to achieve gender parity, Asian women are still in constant conflict[9] with cultural dynamics that hamper their advancement in foreign affairs.

Here’s how we fix it.

Women are not represented

As of 2023, the global share of women serving as cabinet ministers globally is just 22.8%, according to the the Inter-Parliamentary Union[10]. Asian countries (Central and Southern Asia) rank the second lowest of the world regions or at 10.1%[11].

Most of the women (84%) in the cabinet ministers in Asia are assigned in ministries or institutions related to women’s issues, gender equality and children. Meanwhile, the number of women serving in traditionally male-dominated fields[12], such as defence, energy and transportation, remains small – less than 12%.

Globally, out of 193 countries, the portion of women who serve in ministerial positions at the ministries of foreign affairs is only around 20%.

In Asia, the proportion of women as ambassadors and permanent representatives in United Nations (UN) organisations is just 12%[13], far less than the global average of 20.54%. The Maldives has the greatest ratio of female ambassadors among Asian countries – at 50%, while Cambodia with 25% share is the lowest in Asia.

Right now, only 17 Asian nations[14] that currently have ever had female foreign ministers. In Southeast Asia, it is only Philippines, Timor Leste, Myanmar and Indonesia.

During President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo term, Indonesian female ambassadors made up 13.46%[15] from the total 95 embassies and three permanent missions[16], that is higher than the previous administration which stood at 9.55%.

The challenges

There are three challenges behind the low representation of women in Asian foreign affairs.

First, the dearth of representation of women in international affairs is inextricably linked to the notion[17] in most Asian nations that males still dominate this field. Historically, diplomacy has been a male-dominated domain[18] with very few provisions[19] for women.

Second, in most Asian countries[20], there are still unequal cultural and structural power relations[21] inside internal organisations. Patriarchal views and gender preconceptions[22] about the function of female ambassadors still exist.

Third, female diplomats are also affected more disproportionately because they carry double burden[23] in balancing work and personal life.

While they hold public positions, most of them still carry domestic responsibilities. It is still more difficult for women, compared to men, to deal with frequent job rotations, long working hours and placements abroad.

Promoting gender-responsive policies

Research[24] has shown that if women achieved critical mass –somewhere between 20-30% – within an organisation they can wield power and influence[25] in public life and the workforce.

But it is not enough to only ensure women receive fair representation in organisations. After achieving critical mass, the next step is to include a gender perspective in foreign policy approaches, formulation and implementation.

In recent years, several governments in Asia have recognised[26] the needs of gender mainstreaming[27] and feminist foreign policy[28].

Indonesia, for example, has issued a ministerial regulation[29] that facilitates gender-related concerns in ministries, including facilities for female employees.

Other Asian countries are also beginning to implement gender-responsive foreign policy. Several Asian countries have developed National Action Plans[30] on women, peace and security. These include Indonesia (2014), the Philippines (2010 and 2017), South Korea (2014) and Timor Leste (2016).

Sending more female ambassadors to regional and global forums is another way for achieving gender balance and equality.

Efforts have been started but much more is needed. All stakeholders must keep echoing the necessity of gender equality in the work place through better and wider attempts to normalise gender equality[31] in foreign policy institutions.


  1. ^ 2022 Global Gender Gap Report (
  2. ^ the gap persists (
  3. ^ Studies (
  4. ^ ambassadorial positions (
  5. ^ during negotiation processes (
  6. ^ Studies (
  7. ^ some progress (
  8. ^ efforts (
  9. ^ in constant conflict (
  10. ^ the Inter-Parliamentary Union (
  11. ^ 10.1% (
  12. ^ male-dominated fields (
  13. ^ 12% (
  14. ^ 17 Asian nations (
  15. ^ 13.46% (
  16. ^ total 95 embassies and three permanent missions (
  17. ^ the notion (
  18. ^ male-dominated domain (
  19. ^ very few provisions (
  20. ^ most Asian countries (
  21. ^ unequal cultural and structural power relations (
  22. ^ Patriarchal views and gender preconceptions (
  23. ^ carry double burden (
  24. ^ Research (
  25. ^ wield power and influence (
  26. ^ have recognised (
  27. ^ gender mainstreaming (
  28. ^ feminist foreign policy (
  29. ^ a ministerial regulation (
  30. ^ National Action Plans (
  31. ^ attempts to normalise gender equality (

Authors: Athiqah Nur Alami, Researcher at Research Center for Politics, Badan Riset dan Inovasi Nasional (BRIN)

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