Until the early 2000s, the ambassador was the wife of the ambassador, and the (rare) women in this position were called "Madame l'ambassadeur". The official name of ambassador to designate a head of mission abroad dates from 2002.
Where are we today when equality between women and men has been declared by Emmanuel Macron as a great cause of his five-year term and France has committed to "feminist diplomacy", a concept from Sweden that aims to promote women's place in foreign policy?
"In the past five years, the number of women ambassadors has doubled"
It is "A concrete diplomacy that does not just talk, it acts and produces effects to support women, all women"said, on March 8, in a joint forum, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and the Secretary of State for Equality between Women and Men, Marlene Schiappa. "In the past five years, the number of women ambassadors has doubled"the two ministers enthused. It must be said that France was starting from a distance because, even doubling the number, women make up only a quarter of the troops. In January, the French diplomatic network had 179 ambassadors and 89 consuls and consuls-general. Among them, respectively 25.7% and 23.6% of women. For comparison, Sweden is around 40%.
According to an analysis of data from the list of current ambassadors made by Tim Laurence, Science Po student researcher, the typical ambassador is "A man named Philippe, born in 1961, in Paris or the Hauts-de-Seine, and passed by Sciences Po Paris or ENA".
Posts of second zone
Not only do the ambassadors remain in the minority despite the Sauvadet law, which since 2012 has imposed progressive quotas for women in the civil service, but when they reach such a position, they are most often confined to smaller embassies. : the old satellites of the Soviet bloc, the islands of the borders of the world, the micro-states …
The first French ambassador was appointed in 1972 to represent the country in Panama. Then, in the 1980s and 1990s, other women held multiple positions in small states in the Caribbean, Central America and Southern Africa.
Posts considered to be the most prestigious are rarely entrusted to women
"Small states have always been and remain more likely to welcome women diplomats, noted, in 2003, the historian Yves Denéchère, in his article "The place and the role of women in the foreign policy of contemporary France". Did not the Quai d'Orsay limit women to difficult and less important representations or to those that required very specific linguistic skills? " London, Rome, Washington, Beijing … the positions considered the most prestigious are rarely entrusted to women. Of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), only Russia sees France represented by a woman.
Ambassador, a full-time job
Experiments are currently being tried: in 2018, ambassador Corinne Meunier and ambassador Philippe Meunier, husband, were jointly accredited to the Republic of Croatia. They will occupy the position alternately. An experiment, explains the ministry, aimed at removing the obstacles that couples of diplomats encounter to reconcile professional and personal life, and to favor the accession of women to this position.
"The people in charge of [la parité] are too few at the Quai d'Orsay "
But the question of diversity also depends on the means allocated to it. In their information report to the National Assembly, MPs Mireille Clapot (The Republic on the Move) and Laurence Dumont (Socialist Party) pointed out that "The people in charge of these questions are too few at the Quai d'Orsay given the scale of the issues" : 1.5 full-time equivalent is devoted solely to this question of parity in the French representation.
Kareen Rispal, ambassador for France in Canada, confided on her blog that, despite a 66.6% feminization rate at the senior management level of the Quai, habits were well established and that the adoption in 2016 of the charter setting limits to the working day had caused a real "Wave of anxiety".
Historically, the Quai d'Orsay has long reserved a difficult home for women. Suzanne Borel, the first woman admitted to the competition in 1929, could not have embraced a real consular career like her male colleagues, Yves Denéchère recalls. "They have also appealed to the Council of State, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will no longer recruit any woman diplomat until the end of the Second World War. "