Why Do Women Remain Under-Represented in International Affairs? The Case of Australia

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Author/editor: Dr Elise Stephenson
Published in (Monograph or Journal): Australian Journal of Politics and History
Year published: 2022
Issue no.: 2 August 2022


International affairs has a gender problem. Despite a rise in feminist-informed foreign policy in some corners of the globe, gendered (and racialised, heteronormative, classist, and so on) power structures continue to impact women's representation internationally. This paper seeks to know why. Using Australia as a case study, it explores four premier international affairs agencies, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence (inclusive of the Department of Defence and Australian Defence Force), Department of Home Affairs, and the Australian Federal Police, to answer: Why do women remain under-represented in international affairs? Using feminist institutionalist theory, this article argues that three core reasons underline women's under-representation: (1) historical legacies that maintain masculine supremacy in the field; (2) contemporary layering and duplication of gendered challenges across individual, agency, diplomatic field, and society contexts; and (3) the compounding effect of challenges at different stages of women's careers, lives, and posting cycles. In addition, this paper reveals surprising findings, including that more militaristic agency structures result in more proportional representation of women compared with more bureaucratic agency structures, inverting conventional theory on militaries as the most male-dominated and patriarchal spheres of the state. 

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