This is the first time that as many as five women ambassadors have been serving in the Sultanate at the same time. Until now, it has been occasionally none and usually been less than three - and so five seems like luxury, even though women represent less than ten percent of the fifty-two envoys and country representatives in Oman.
These five accomplished diplomats come from Brazil, Italy, the USA, Iraq, and The Netherlands. Each one has a different story to tell:
The first to arrive in Oman was Mitzi de Costa, Ambassador of Brazil. Although her father was a diplomat, Mitzi grew up without any interest in the Foreign Service. No, she wanted to be an astronaut and took a degree in Nuclear Physics with the aim of working for NASA. When she visited her father in Saudi Arabia, Mitzi volunteered to help out in the Embassy, which was short-staffed. Just before she returned to Brazil, Mitz's father asked, "Why not try diplomacy?" And that's exactly what she did.
Paola Amadei, Ambassador of Italy, first thought of entering the Foreign Service in school when she became interested in the formation of the European Union and the worldwide scope of the United Nations. As an idealistic young woman contemplating studies in International Law and Political Science, she began to dream of representing her country abroad. While finishing her masters, Paola concentrated on preparing for the extremely rigorous Foreign Service exams. The door was soon to open for a career to which Paola would whole-heartedly devote her talent, passion and unswerving idealism.
Greta Holtz, Ambassador of the United States of America, grew up with an innate desire to serve, to help people in meaningful ways. When she worked as an intern at the Pentagon, Greta found that she had a natural affinity with the ethos of the US Military with its strong traditions of honour, courage and valour.
After passing the exams, Greta served in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, and Turkey.
As a child, Dr Amal Mussa Hussain, Ambassador of Iraq, was determined to become a physician. Amal's parents, though of modest background, understood the value of education and steadfastly supported their daughter's ambition.
Not only did Amal succeed in becoming a physician, she rose to the post of Medical Advisor to the Prime Minister in Iraq's post-Saddam regime. In Iraq, Ambassadors, who must first be successful in Government or politics, as well as in rigorous examinations, are appointed after thorough scrutiny by parliament. Dr Amal was one of two women who won parliamentary approval and was posted abroad with the rank of Ambassador.
The path that led to Barbara Joziasse, Ambassador of the Netherlands' diplomatic career began early on in life. "When I was a child I had a keen interest in other countries and would go on my bicycle to the library in our small town and read everything I could find on this subject. At University, I specialised in Oriental Studies, including Arabic and Political Science. This led to a year of studying in Syria and at Oxford. Eventually I found myself applying for the Diplomatic Service and when I passed there was no looking back!'
Challenges for women ambassadors
All five Ambassadors agree that men and women have the same challenges in the job, but the personal aspect may be different. For Mitzi it was "being married and being a diplomat." Normally, men have the advantage of wives who work almost full-time managing the residence and helping with the omnipresent social obligations, while women Ambassadors do not have husbands likely to play such a role.
"But", said Mitzi, "this applies not only to women diplomats – all working women have to manage the household as well as their jobs."
It normally takes quite a few years for career diplomats to be eligible for an ambassadorial post since they must rise through several ranks beginning with Third Secretary. Paola, who has just been promoted to the rank of Ambassador Plenipotentiary, recalls that when she entered the service in 1991, there were very few women, "but today the new generation of diplomats in Italy are almost fifty percent women". Barbara observes that, at her level, recently, twenty percent are women. "This means that it is more difficult for women and they do have to work harder. Women, as well as people from different cultural backgrounds, are beneficial to the organisation. I feel it is important that the Foreign Service reflects the diversity of the Dutch population."
Serving in Oman
Greta loves working with her Omani counterpart in Washington, a remarkable woman, Hunaina Al Mughairy. "It is an honour to work with such a distinguished and experienced diplomat, and this is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. Hunaina and I have done a lot of work in the business realm as well as on cultural matters – and one of the happy outcomes is that we have become friends."
"Oman makes me feel right at home", remarked Amal. "Oman and Iraq have had good relations throughout our histories and there is a high level of trust. I am very comfortable here."
"There is something very special about Oman", observes Paola. "I was happy here from the day I arrived. People are remarkably kind - if they can help you in any way, they do. It is a wonderful country with lovely people. Italy and Oman enjoy strong ties in political, economic, cultural and scientific cooperation. Italy sees Oman as a reliable partner with which we can exchange views on all major political issues. Oman is an important partner not only for Italy, but also for the European Union."
Barbara was posted in Oman after serving as Ambassador in Zimbabwe. She had visited Oman briefly and it made a very strong impression. "As soon as I put my feet on Omani soil again, I felt at home. What I especially admire about Omani people is that they genuinely respect one another and you – even when they don't agree. Grace and politeness underlie the Omani modus operandi."
One thing Greta values about serving in Oman relates to "the very important role that Oman plays in the region behind the scenes in this period of turmoil and change - especially with respect to the evolving role of Iraq. This makes it particularly rewarding and fascinating to be in Oman".
"One of the highlights of my time in Oman has been implementing the US-Oman Free Trade Agreement. "I am very pleased that the US Navy has chosen Oman to be their logistics and supply hub in the region.
Private companies will follow with businesses in ship repair, cold storage, recreation and entertainment as well as tourism. We consider this to be a very important sign of our deep bilateral relations and it augurs well for the future development of Oman's ports, especially Duqm."
Reflections on the future
When it comes to completing her diplomatic career, Mitzi who has served in the USA and Australia, would, in short, like to "have the feeling of a job well done". In Oman she has concentrated on boosting trade, tourism and cultural exchange. Brazilian steel giant, Vale, has a strong presence in the Industrial Port of Sohar and supports Oman's aim to develop an integrated steel cluster. Brazilian film nights at the Embassy have proved very popular - and of course with the World Cup, there is increased interest in Brazilian culture.
Dr Amal is committed to serving the new Iraq, to rebuilding Iraq's relationships abroad and reflecting Iraqi women well as a role model. Upon retirement, she plans to continue her current voluntary work for orphans in Iraq on a full-time basis. For Paola, too, it is imperative to maximise her contribution. "I endeavour do my very best and give all I can for my country. Later on, I look forward to having time to play the piano more seriously and to undertake volunteer work in education, which is so fundamental to human advancement."
Barbara notes, "The beauty of being a diplomat, the true nature of what we are doing - is witnessing history in the making. At the same time, we are part of history and we can have an impact. That is what makes our job so special - it's like a blessing. In Zimbabwe, our Embassy was part of a peace process, bringing parties together in drafting a new constitution. In contrast, Oman is highly developed, and we are playing a role in reinstating Oman as an important shipping hub, a centre for logistics and transportation."
Greta thinks about "helping people on a large scale, as in the International Red Cross. Then I could put the elements together to make a significant difference working with those who save other people. That would be my dream."