Women as Head of Diplomats in Indonesia and Australia

The role of women in decision-making was central to the advancement of women around the world and to the progress of humankind as a whole. In all, more than 50 countries have chosen a female head of state or government at some point in their history. Switzerland has had five female presidents, more than any other country. Worldwide, the advance of women into positions of authority has not corresponded evenly with their economic or political emancipation. Spain has passed “equality laws” mandating that political parties include 40-60 percent of each sex among electoral candidates, and yet it has not had a woman lead its government in the modern era. South America, long derided for the culture of machismo, has outpaced all other regions of the world in the number of women who have led entire nations.

Since the 1880s, over 100 women have secured their parties’ nomination for president or vice president. But only twice in U.S. history has a women appeared on the ballot for a major party and both times for vice president: Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 for the Democratic party and Sarah Palin in 2008 for the Republican party.

Diplomacy has long been considered to be one of the most prestigious and important professions in the world. However, even though half of the world’s population consists of women, they have been heavily underrepresented in this field. Indeed, in many studies, foreign policy in particular has been largely dominated by men. Rarely have women been allowed into this sphere, and if so, their role has mainly been unofficial, for example as a wife of a diplomat. Some have argued that there have been, and still are, numerous barriers that contribute to the exclusion of women. Others claim that women tend to be less willing to apply for these positions.

Lately, the lack of women in this arena has been problematized, and many seem to have raised their voices in favor of increasing the representation of women in diplomacy. Traditionally, international politics has remained a male arena and has excluded women. Men have long naturally carried out interstate relations, warfare and sensitive diplomatic relations. The exclusion of women has been motivated by the view on women to not understand warfare and the view that men need to protect women, has remained.

Indonesian Perspective

A recent Global Gender Gap Index report by the World Economic Forum in 2015 showed that Indonesia ranked 92nd out of 145 countries in terms of gender equality, scoring far below its neighbor, the Philippines, which ranked 7th and Laos and Singapore in ranked 52nd and 54th respectively. Women who hold a seat on the board of directors in listed companies in Indonesia are still in a minority. They tend to underestimate their skills, and have to consider more family life factors before deciding to take a top position.

The report found that approximately 31 percent of Indonesian firms have female top managers. Women make up 10 percent of the boards of the directors in listed companies, while approximately 43 percent firms have female participation in their ownership. There are some factors behind this condition. First is family factor when women often assume that higher positions will mean less time for their household. Second is socio-religion factor which relatively some groups of social-activist views Islam often block women’s rights.

However, Indonesia has made progress in improving women’s roles as the economic opportunities, career positions or political participation. Indonesia is the second country in Southeast Asia to elect a woman as president, while other big countries such as the USA, China or France have never made this choice. Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, is run by a woman whose competence has been hailed internationally. 18% of Indonesian deputies are women, and a figure expected to grow this year, close to the goal of 30% set by international treaties.

Indonesia has also made improvement in political empowerment for women. In terms of women in parliament, the position is 89th and for women in ministerial positions is 49th.

President Joko Widodo had appointed a woman as the first female foreign minister in Indonesian history. Reaction was broadly positive to the appointment of Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s ambassador to the Netherlands, as foreign minister. She was one of eight women in the cabinet in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. This appointment is an affirmation of the push for gender equality and women’s participation in the country. There are many hopes that she would increase women’s participation in Indonesia’s bilateral, regional and international cooperations at a substantial level, so they can include women’s perspectives in their outputs and policies.

Strengthening the Role of Women

Women’s presence within the formulation of policy process is politically important. They can set the policy agenda of a nation, determine the content of many policies and oversee and guide policy implementation and administration, including any policies to advance women. Their participation in decision-making has implications for promoting and strengthening the role of women in the future.

It may take some enactments to retain the woman participation, especially in formulating foreign policy namely:

  1. Ensure that in addition to national laws, relevant international instruments relating to full political rights for women, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, are ratified, integrated into national law and implemented.
  2. Review the existing constitutional, political, legislative, and regulatory frameworks, for provisions that may hinder women’s equal participation.
  3. Seek to achieve gender parity in all decision-making bodies.
  4. Enact special measures to guarantee women access to the decision-making positions.


End Notes:

Equal Participation of Women and Men in Decision Making Process, with Particular Emphasis on Political Participation and Leadership  (Report of the Group Expert Meeting, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) 2427 Oktober 2005

Five Ways to Include More Women in Foreign Policy (

Gender in Indonesia (Asia Foundation)

The Foreign Policy of Indonesia: In Light of President Jokowi “Visi-Misi” Program (Budapest, 2015)

The Political Economy of Policy Making in Indonesia – Working Paper No. 340 (Overseas Development Institute, 2011)

Women’s Role in Warming World (Center for American Progress)




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