Thursday, February 4, 2010

Quickie: Starting the “New Gender Agenda” at Home

Why Secretary Clinton needs to begin in Foggy Bottom

The February issue of the Foreign Service Journal is out. FS spouse, Amanda Fernández assigned in Quito with her husband pens the Speaking Out column. The writer is a former humanitarian worker who has lived and worked in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Angola, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. She currently works for a USAID contractor. Excerpt below:

When I heard that Hillary Rodham Clinton had been confirmed as Secretary of State, my first thought was that her appointment would be a turning point for Foreign Service spouses. What better leader to empathize with State Department spouses overseas, most of whom are women (81 percent, according to the Family Liaison Office) living in the shadow of their husbands’ careers? Due to constant relocation and other difficulties, many have put on hold their own professional ambitions.
Why are 61 percent of Foreign Service spouses overseas unemployed when U.S. embassies report being chronically understaffed?
In spite of the Family Liaison Office’s best efforts to combat the practice, many local-hire job descriptions at U.S. embassies are written in ways that preclude spouses from qualifying for them. At one post where I served, a position for a nurse (to serve Americans) opened in our health unit, to the delight of a recently arrived spouse who was a registered nurse. However, the position called for a 4/4 level of Spanish, something not required even of consular officers at the post. She took her concerns to the management counselor, who defended the language in the job description. Again, if State is serious about EFM employment, all local embassy jobs, with rare exceptions, should be potentially available to them.
Sec. Clinton has extolled the benefits to our foreign policy of meaningful employment among women. She can take the first step toward transforming her words into action by focusing on the (mostly female) spouses of U.S. embassy employees overseas.

Check out the new issue of FSJ here.  Read Amanda’s piece here.

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