Sunday, July 13, 2014

Women of the World

The following is part of a review by John Gallagher of the Telegraph of Helen McCarthy's book Women of the World: The Rise of the Female Diplomat.

Women’s involvement in global politics is nothing new. Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting were adept in international intrigue; Mary Wortley Montagu penned dispatches from the 18th-century Ottoman harem; and one could even argue that the biblical Judith’s decapitation of Holofernes was early proof of women’s aptitude for cutthroat diplomacy.

But in Britain, women’s entry into the diplomatic service was approved only in 1946, 30 years after they had won the vote, and long after the rest of the civil service. In this carefully researched, stylishly written and highly entertaining history, Helen McCarthy traces the roles that women have played in British diplomacy from the 19th century onwards, and highlights the issues that bedevil their service into the present day.

The story is rich with female pioneers who proved in practice what the establishment could not accept in principle. Of course, the barriers to female progression did not fall away so quickly: in particular, the marriage bar introduced in 1946 meant that many young women had promising careers cut abruptly short. It would be 1987 before Britain named its first married female ambassador.

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