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South Asian Women in Diplomacy

Jul/02/2023 / by Melanie Fourie

Recognizing the women who made an impact on foreign affairs

Closeup of two women shaking hands indoors
Image via Shutterstock

Last week, the world observed the United Nations International Day of Women in Diplomacy. The SEEMA team acknowledges the contributions made by South Asian women in international diplomacy, playing important roles in representing their countries on global platforms. The women in this list have played important roles in peacekeeping, whether through politics or other avenues.

Ruchira Kamboj

The Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations since last year, Ruchira Kamboj was India’s first female ambassador to Bhutan. She was also the first Indian female ambassador and permanent delegate to UNESCO in Paris, before taking up the role of high commissioner in South Africa. Kamboj graduated the top of her class in both the 1987 Civil Services and Foreign Service examinations. She is currently based in New York to fulfill her role in the UN.

Rita Manchanda

Prominent author, scholar-researcher, and equality activist Rita Manchanda focuses on hostilities and peacebuilding in South Asia, paying specific attention to the needs of women, minorities, indigenous peoples, and people who have been uprooted from their homes due to violence or persecution.

Manchanda has been a Senior Executive and Research Director at the regional NGO South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) for over 15 years, where she has directed and coordinated a wide range of programs. She has worked as an adviser for UN Women, among other organizations, over the past decade and a half. She has taught classes on peace-making at the SAFHR: Human Rights and Peace Orientation Course too.

In her recent book, Manchanda has written about her studies on peacemaking in South Asia, and has also published research on Naga women in the peace process.

Hansa Mehta

Indian-born Hansa Mehta was a fierce advocate for women’s rights at both domestic and international levels, and she was the sole female representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1947 and 1948. Many people give her credit for revising Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal.”

Sneha Dubey

India’s first secretary at the United Nations, Sneha Dubey made headlines with her powerful address at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. In the office of the President of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sneha Dubey serves as an Advisor for Sustainable Development.

Dubey formerly served as the head of Economic and Social Committee Affairs at India’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. Sustainable Development and digital cooperation, among others, were part of her mandate.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

In 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first elected female head of government when she was chosen as prime minister of Sri Lanka (then referred to as Ceylon). This was a year after her spouse Solomon Bandaranaike, was killed.

His Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) pushed her into the position of party head. She was elected prime minister after the SLFP swept the general election in July 1960. Bandaranaike maintained the socialist economic policies and diplomatic neutrality established by her spouse.

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