Dian Septiari, Jakarta – Ambassadors and foreign representatives in Jakarta's diplomatic circles have taken a diversity pledge to decline speaking engagements in all public discussions where women's voices are not represented, part of a bigger move to ensure equal representation as the world celebrated International Women's Day on Monday.
Forty male ambassadors and several senior officials from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry joined the call to end so-called "manels" – short for all-male panel discussions – with some taking to social media to voice their commitment to gender inclusion.
The "No Manel Pledge" was first initiated by United Nations resident coordinator for Indonesia, Valerie Julliand, earlier this year. She invited national and international partners to join the 23 UN agencies in taking this "small yet far-reaching" initiative toward gender diversity and inclusion for sustainable development.
"'Manels' do not represent the diversity of the world we live in and deprive us of a more holistic, innovative and insightful perspective on any given discussion or topic," she said in a statement on Jan. 14.
"They are manifestations of sexism and exclusion, which may reinforce the gendered stereotype of men commanding authority or superior expertise, even when there are equally – if not more – qualified women whose contributions are undervalued or left out," Julliand added.
Under this pledge, diplomats vowed only to participate as speakers in public discussions, conferences and webinars where women are present on the panel – as experts, not facilitators or moderators.
Currently, 40 embassies, including Canada, Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, the Philippines, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste and the United Kingdom, have taken this pledge.
"It's really important that we have women involved in every public discussion. Every topic that we discuss as ambassadors and diplomats impacts women, and some topics impact women more than men, so it is critical that we have women as part of those discussions," Canadian Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron MacKay told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview.
As a country that has worked with Indonesia on various development programs, Canada was seeking to eradicate poverty and build a more peaceful, inclusive and prosperous world, in accordance with the nation's Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), McKay said.
Canada, the envoy said, firmly believed that promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls was "the most effective way to reduce poverty and inequality".
Danish Ambassador to Indonesia Lars Bo Larsen noted that excluding women from discussions would mean that half of the world's talents were essentially excluded from talks.
"If there are no female [figures] at the table, men tend to be more stupid, frankly speaking. It does something good for discussions that there is more diversity," he said in a joint interview with his Canadian colleague last Thursday.
Indonesia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah also got in on the act, voicing support for gender equality on social media.
"Led by the first female Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and with the male and female diplomats' ratio of almost 50:50 makes #genderequality a reality in the Indonesian Foreign Ministry," he tweeted on Monday.
Currently serving her second term as the country's top diplomat under President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, Retno has made women, peace and security top agenda points, as she circumnavigates diplomatic terrain where woman are severely underrepresented, especially in mediation and negotiations of peace processes.
The ministry has held regionwide training for young female diplomats to strengthen their capabilities in peacemaking. It has also established a network of women who can contribute to building sustaining peace.
Despite many studies suggesting that the role of women could increase the likelihood of sustained peace, their representation in peace processes is often underrated, with female representatives accounting for only 10 percent in the Afghan peace talks, some 20 percent in Libya's political discussions and nearly zero in the recent Yemen peace process, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Indonesia's involvement in the Afghan peace process has also underlined the importance of having Afghan women play a more active role in the discussions, instead of only becoming the victims of drawn-out conflict.
Minister Retno inaugurated the Afghanistan-Indonesia Women's Solidarity Network in Kabul in March last year before the entire world closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Women do belong at the peace table, and we are losing a bigger chance for peace if women are not provided equal opportunity to contribute," Retno said at a meeting with the newly established Southeast Asian Network of Women Peace Negotiators and Mediators (SEANWPNM) in December.