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'Hillary effect' cited for increase in female ambassadors to U.S.

The 'Hillary effect' is cited for the increase in women holding ambassadorial posts in the United States. Here are a few of the women bringing change to what once was an elite men's club.

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By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2010

In the gated Oman Embassy off Massachusetts Avenue, Washington's first female ambassador from an Arab country, Hunaina Sultan Al-Mughairy, sat at her desk looking over a speech aimed at erasing misconceptions about her Muslim nation.

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A few blocks away inside a stately Dupont Circle mansion, India's first female ambassador in more than 50 years, Meera Shankar, huddled with top aides after her prime minister's state visit with President Obama.

Nearby, in a century-old residence with its own ballroom, Latin America's only female ambassador in Washington, Colombia's Carolina Barco, dashed back from talking up free trade on Capitol Hill to showcase her country's culture and food.

There are 25 female ambassadors posted in Washington -- the highest number ever, according to the State Department.

"This is breaking precedent," said Selma "Lucky" Roosevelt, a former U.S. chief of protocol.

Women remain a distinct minority -- there are 182 accredited ambassadors in Washington -- but their rise from a cadre of five in the late 1990s to five times that is opening up what had been an elite's men club for more than a century.

A key reason is the increase in the number of top U.S. diplomats who are women, what some call the "Hillary effect."

"Hillary Clinton is so visible" as secretary of state, said Amelia Matos Sumbana, who just arrived as ambassador from Mozambique. "She makes it easier for presidents to pick a woman for Washington."

Three of the last four secretaries of state -- the office that receives foreign ambassadors -- have been women.

Madeleine Albright became the first female U.S. secretary of state in 1997. Condoleezza Rice served from 2005 to 2009.

Clinton, now in her second year, is especially well-known abroad because of her stint as first lady and her presidential run; she is seen by many as a globetrotting champion of women's rights.

"The pictures of U.S. diplomacy have been strongly dominated by photos of women recently," Shankar said. "That helps to broaden the acceptance of women in the field of diplomacy."


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