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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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Claudia Fritsche, the ambassador from Liechtenstein, a principality that only gave women the right to vote in 1984, said the Albright-Rice-Clinton sequence has "a worldwide effect. . . . It's inspiring, motivating and certainly encouraging."

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Albright said that when she spoke to foreign ministers around the world they told her governments had started thinking, "We need a Madeleine."

Some American diplomats said the appointment of a woman can be a visible way for a country to signal that is modernizing and in step with the United States.

A woman's touch

For many countries, a Potomac posting is prized, landed only by seasoned diplomats and influential political players. More women now have those credentials, a reflection of women's advancement in many parts of the world.

Eleven of the 25 female envoys in Washington are from Africa. Four are from Caribbean nations. The others are from Bahrain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Kyrgyzstan, Singapore, Oman, Colombia, India, Liechtenstein and Nauru, an eight-square-mile Pacific island with only 14,000 people.

Heng Chee Chan, the Singaporean ambassador and the longest-serving female envoy in Washington, said it has been a "quantum leap" for women in diplomacy since she arrived here in 1996.

In the beginning, she said people just assumed she was a man. When a table was booked under "Ambassador Chan" and she arrived asking for it, she was told, 'Oh, he is not here yet.' "

Many said they are still often bypassed in receiving lines and the male standing beside them is greeted as "Mr. Ambassador."

"Even when I say I am ambassador, people assume I am the spouse," said Shankar, who has represented India in Washington for nearly a year.

More than half of new recruits for the U.S. Foreign Service and 30 percent of the chiefs of mission are now women, according to the State Department. That is a seismic shift from the days, as late as the 1970s, when women in the Foreign Service had to quit when they married, a rule that did not apply to men.

"It was outrageous," said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association. "The idea was that a married woman could not be available for worldwide service. She would be having children and making a home."

That thinking is still alive in many parts of the world. But as the U.S. Foreign Service moves away from being "pale, male and Yale," the diplomatic ranks elsewhere are diversifying, too.


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