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Black Women Ambassadors: Contesting International Gender Hierarchies

(L-R) Dr. Dawuni, Amb. Mulamula, Amb. Chihombori-Quao and Amb. Phillip-Browne In 1991, Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright’s article on Feminist Approaches to International Law provided a set of lens for understanding and challenging the hierarchical and patriarchal nature of international law. Since then, their findings revolutionized the development of new studies seeking to question the place of women in international law, international organizations and diplomacy. Consequently, a growing body of scholarship drawing largely from feminist institutionalism and other theoretical frameworks have examined women in international organizations, foreign service and international diplomacy. Unsurprisingly, this body of feminist legal jurisprudence and international diplomacy has tended to focus on women in the “global north”, to the exclusion of women in the “global south.” While women across the continent of Africa have made great strides in the international arena–– including the political, legal and economic spheres, the subject of African women in the foreign service and international diplomacy has eluded many scholars. At the recently ended 61st Annual Conference of the African Studies Association, held in Atlanta, GA from November 29- December 1 2018, Dr. J. Jarpa Dawuni, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Howard University convened a roundtable discussion on Black women ambassadors. The goal of this roundtable was to bridge the gap between academia and the world of diplomacy. The first of several Ambassador Series to follow, this roundtable focused on exploring the voices of Black women Ambassadors and how they negotiate their intersectional identities in the world of international diplomacy. The roundtable discussion brought together three women Ambassadors from Africa and the Caribbean regions, to explore important questions on gender and diplomacy.

Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao Presenting a wider continental perspective was H.E Ambassador Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, the current Permanent Representative of the African Union to the United States. Prior to her appointment as the AU Ambassador, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao was a family medicine doctor in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with over thirty-years of experience in the medical field.

Ambassador Liberata Mulamula In attendance was H.E Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, former Tanzania Ambassador to the United States and Mexico, and currently Associate Director of the Institute for African Studies at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. Ambassador Mulamula is a career diplomat with over thirty-five years’ experience in international diplomacy.

Ambassador Thelma Phillip-Browne Representing the Caribbean region was H.E Ambassador Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne, current Ambassador of St. Kitts and Nevis to the United States. Ambassador Phillip-Browne comes to this position with over thirty-years of experience as a medical doctor with specialization in dermatology. The panelists discussed interesting topics such as their careers and pathways to the foreign service, navigating the gendered international political landscape and provided insights on the way forward for women. Ambassador’s Chihombori-Quao and Phillip-Browne each noted that as medical doctors, politics or diplomacy was not something they had imagined they would ever practice. Yet, they both noted that their rigorous training as medical doctors and the art of listening to patients and finding solutions to ailments have proven useful in their work as Ambassadors. Asked how her prior professional experience has prepared her for the task of diplomacy, Ambassador Chihombori-Quao mentioned being an advocate for her patients has proved vital in her current work as a voice for Africans and African issues. In presenting her pathways to the diplomatic world, Ambassador Mulamula shared her experience as a career Foreign Services Officer who rose to the Ambassadorial level through rank and file, which contrasted with her two Ambassadors colleagues. She explained how the policies of the first president of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere based on equality for all and social cohesion had great influence and impacted her positively in pursuing education and career advancement. She recounted her first diplomatic posting abroad at the United Nations in New York to represent her home country of Tanzania and how it defined her career trajectory in a multilateral setting for years to come.

(L-R) Amb. Mulamula, Amb. Phillip-Browne, Amb. Chihombori-Quao, Dr. Dawuni Ambassador Phillip-Browne noted the conceptual definitions of a diplomat as one requiring traits of consensus making, attentive listening and bridge building. She noted that these are qualities women often have, and therefore to her understanding, the world of diplomacy should be a place where women feature prominently. She pointed out that the lifting of historical challenges to women serving as Ambassadors has opened new opportunities for women to serve in diplomatic positions. Together, all three Ambassadors stressed the importance of peer mentoring and the need for women to continue to develop their leadership skills and talents. Ambassador Chihombori-Quao called on the audience to join her initiative in reversing the African brain drain. She noted the African Union Missions’ project on building Cities of Excellence to advance the development agenda of the African Diaspora. As the roundtable organizer and moderator, Dr. Dawuni plans to build on the initial success of this roundtable as a forum for bridging the gap between academia, women’s studies and the world of diplomacy. The next Ambassador Roundtable Series is scheduled to take place in early 2019.

(L-R) Amb. Mulamula, Dr. Dawuni, Dr. Teboh, Amb. Phillip-Browne


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