Invisible while visible: an Australian perspective on queer women leaders in international affairs

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In among the silencing and invisibility of their stories, queer women operate as critical leaders in international affairs. They face multiple marginalisations: (1) challenging the archetypical diplomat or security leader as a heteronormative (white) male; and (2) operating in different cultural contexts with varying negative attitudes towards women in power and homosexuality in general. Providing both empirical and theoretical contributions to the fields of diplomacy, feminist and queer theory, this article gains unique access to Australian lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, and intersex diplomats and attachés to understand: what are the experiences of queer woman leaders in international affairs? Key messages Queer women experience deep exclusion in diplomacy, often ‘invisible’ despite their highly visible roles. Even if not queer, women diplomats are often typified to be queer, which is emblematic of othering. Diplomatic privilege protects queer women, providing opportunities to work in contentious spaces. Women with wives may be best able to perform the ‘dual roles’ of diplomacy but challenges remain. </ul

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Women in international affairs play powerful and influential roles in shaping laws and policies, negotiating on subjects of war, peace and security, and representing national interest. In Australia, women outnumber men at all levels of public service to executive level one. Yet, women remain under-represented in more senior ranks and appear to experience significant challenges gaining leadership in agencies involved in diplomacy and security. What are the gendered institutions at play in Australian international affairs? Using a comparative case study approach, this paper explores the experiences of senior executive level women leaders across the Australian Federal Government in four case agencies—the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Defence, Department of Home Affairs (DHA), and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Women’s gendered challenges in international leadership are not surprising within a diplomatic history that has often restricted women’s roles based off the ‘appropriateness’ of sending women as envoys to nations of varying safety and respect for their status. What is surprising is that women report greater sexism, discrimination and harassment from within their own agencies, not from countries in which they are hosted. This has important ramifications globally on gaining and retaining women in international affairs leadership.