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The Ambassador's wife

As is my habit, I randomly stumbled upon an article entitled “The role of the Ambassador’s wife.” This article was actually published by the Journal of Marriage and Family (Volume. 31 No. 1) in February 1969 and written by a female professor with a Ph.D in Sociology, from the University of California, Berkeley. Seriously when I looked at this article my thought was ‘what in the heavens was she thinking when she wrote this? In her own words, her thesis sought to explore the role of the ambassador’s wife and in her introduction she stated;

“The role of the ambassador’s wife is largely shaped by her husband’s role and spokesman for the American government. This paper examines the way in which his job affects hers…”

Yes in 1969 as in many other political and decision-making positions, the position of the Ambassador was predominantly male territory. However I cannot understand how an American professor could publish an academic article of this nature at a time when female ambassadors were not such a strange phenomenon. There might not have been as many female ambassadors as there are now but in my view an article of this nature only served to perpetuate the gender stereotype and the belief that only men could be ambassadors and women the ambassador’s wives.One can not help but develop an image of the ambassador's wife as the socialite, paying attention to the wining and dining of her husband's guests while he talks politics.

The world’s first female ambassador, Hungarian feminist and activist Rosika Schwimmer, was appointed in 1918 to serve in Switzerland. Well done to Hungary for being a trendsetter in that regard. By 1969, when the article was written many countries had appointed female ambassadors: Belgium, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burma, Colombia, Cuba, Finland, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iraq, Ireland, Lithuania, Paraguay Romania, South Korea, Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, Venezuela, and the former Yugoslavia had had at least one female ambassador. Austria, Costa Rica, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, New Zealand and Tanzania had appointed two; Mexico, Morocco and Pakistan three; Sweden four; Brazil, Chile, Denmark, India and the USA five and the highest number had come from Canada with six female ambassadors by 1969.

Surely coming from a country where the first female ambassador Frances Willis had been appointed in 1962 and the first African-American female ambassador, Patricia Harris, had also been appointed 3 years on the author should have realised the inappropriateness of her research topic at a time when women were fighting for political, economic and social equality of the sexes, what we have popularly come to know as the feminist struggle.

Fortunately for all of us, the world has come to recognise how certain labels can act destructively to perpetuate gender stereotypes. Hence a change in the name given to a group can stir transformation in mindsets and begin to unseat years of deep seated misguided notions about what women can do as compared to men. So from having a Diplomatic ‘wives’ Association we now have a Diplomatic ‘spouses’ Association. Yes, women too can be ambassadors and their partner would be regarded as a spouse not wife. With regard to countries that have legalised same sex marriages, the dynamics would be even more complicated where the ambassador is either male or female married to another male or female, respectively.

So I looked at this article and I appreciated how far we, as women, have come in asserting ourselves as equals, with equal capabilities to those of men. Previously male dominated fields including law, politics and diplomacy have been penetrated by women. I am proud of these achievements as I am one of those who have benefitted from the years of struggle.

Where previously the idea of a female president was scoffed upon today we have plenty of them. Current serving female presidents are Tarja Kaarina Halonen, Finland's first woman president; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, current President of Liberia and the first African female President; Micheline Calmy-Rey President of Switzerland; Pratibha Patil President of India; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina; Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania; Laura Chinchilla Miranda of Costa Rica; Roza Otunbayeva Interim president of Kyrgyzstan; Dilma Rousseff President of Brazil; Maria Luisa Berti Co-Captain-regent (head of State and Government) of San Marino; Atifete Jahjaga President of Kosovo and Ireland’s President Mary McAleese.

We also have a number of female prime ministers: Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Iceland Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, Croatia Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard , Slovakia Prime Minister Iveta Radicová, Peru Prime Minister Rosario Fernández, Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé Prime minister of Mali.

Scores of influential women whose work has transformed our societies and proved that women are as capable as men, or even better live among us. Just to mention a few phenomenal women: Maya Angelou an inspirational writer and poet, Aung San Suu Kyi the Burmese political activist whose quiet strength in the struggle for democracy has inspired many, Hillary Clinton who serves as the US Secretary of State, Navenatham Pillay who is the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Oprah Winfrey whose sheer determination to rise to the top and become a billionaire has motivated women particularly black women that they can make it too in a difficult world governed by unjustifiable stereotypes, Christiane Amanpour who has broken barriers in the field of journalism, and Michelle Bachelet who is the first Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

These women have rejected, challenged and triumphed over cultural perceptions of women as incompetent beings. They have shown how women can assert their presence and their voices in the political, social, economic and cultural spheres. They have worked hard to define women as equal citizens with equal rights. They have displayed great strength and risen above oppression and subordination and for that I salute them. Indeed these and other women are living proof that women can do it too and the era of the ‘Ambassador’s wife’ is gone, never to come back again...or at least I hope.



Phoenixdocu's picture

You Go girl! Love this article!

Women are no longer liabilities but assets to their countries.

MaDube's picture


Indeed we are invaluable assets to the world. I always imagine that if all the women agreed to no longer perform the role that women perform the most, which men can NEVER perform, which role means the most to humanity and which seems to be the least valued -child birth- what would the world become. The appreciation for women sacrifice when they give birth should no longer be defined in relation to their partners for instance a man saying she is the mother of my children- it should be defined in terms of the value of the contributions women make- women as the sustainers of human kind.

zoneziwoh's picture

well said dear sister

You are amazing in your presentation. I always love to read your works. They are not only filled with great knowledge but also an outstanding representation of womanhood.

The ambassador's wife is an interesting piece of reference to all. Once more, many thanks for drawing up such a firm analysis and also raising the concern. I am very sure - a lot of people who reads this article will start to visualize the role of women differently.

This is beautiful. If you dont mind - I will like to share your essay with a couple of friends and as well on my blogs (with reference tothis page) @

Stay Blessed



Facebook:Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo Wondieh

Twitter | Instagram: @ZoFem

MaDube's picture


Hey Zoe (If I may call you that?)

Thank you for your support as always.

Do I mind you sharing this with our fellow women and men (whom we need to recognise that we are here and here to stay)? Of course not. Go ahead. When we write we want our words to make a difference and the more people who read them the wider we are getting our message across. I appreciate your help.

Peace and love,

Greengirl's picture

Very Deep Indeed

Thank you for sharing the article on "The Ambassadors Wife". Your review of the write up is very informing, just as much as it is inspiring. The world is waiting to hear you!

Very Warm Regards,


MaDube's picture

Thank you Olanike. I am so

Thank you Olanike. I am so encouraged by your support.



Okeny-Lucia's picture


Gal you are amazing this is great amazing piece of work.Brings to me fond Memories of my great friend of the Canadian High Commission in Kenya.A versatile Diplomatic wife ,who spend numerous times in the community .Helping women to understand the need to rise up from their slumber of hoplessness.
After walking with her to visit women in Kibera,it is only that I realised she belonged to the Diplmatic Wife Association,behind the Community responsibility at the Commission lay a committed woman to service.
I miss her alot.
You actually brought fond memories of a unsung diplomat wife many didnt know,but I had all the privileges.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

MaDube's picture

Thank you my sister. Indeed

Thank you my sister. Indeed the work that these women do is remarkable but what I was rising up against is the perception that they can only do this kind of work and have such impact in the capacity of diplomats' wives. They can be the diplomats themselves hence the definition of the role should be of diplomats' spouses not wives.

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Thanks ma Dube

Thanks Dear Sister,
It is not only the diplomat spouses,look around all the big men personality.The wives of Presidents,maybe it is only Hillary Clinton to my opinion,who defined to herself what it is to be diplomat.And I wish the women in those position will raise the bar and continue with diplomatic mission autonomously without the interference.
Otherwise keep up with that insightful writing.It gives me pleasure to connect with great minds of women in Pulse.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

MaDube's picture


Behind every successful man lies an incisive and strong woman and behind every successful woman lies her intellect, resolve and strength. :-) Women make it against all odds because they persevere, they never give up and are an inspiration unto themselves. I always look at the women who have managed to take care of their families, protect their children and emerged strong from difficult circumstances such as the war in Sudan or East Timor and the DRC among others. I am amazed by their will power in such difficult circumstances yet more often than not they are the unsung heroes of the war. The men will be hailed and praised because they held the guns but what about these women who held guns of loneliness, terror and sometimes dejection. All the same thank you for your support dear sister.

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