Irish envoy gathers powerful women together

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason began a network when she arrived in Paris

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason (in purple, front row) with Senator Helene Conway-Mouret (on her left) and guest of honour Marie-Christine Saragosse (to her right). Photograph: Lara Marlowe

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason (in purple, front row) with Senator Helene Conway-Mouret (on her left) and guest of honour Marie-Christine Saragosse (to her right). Photograph: Lara Marlowe

 

When Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason arrived in Paris last year, she and her Swedish counterpart started an informal network of nearly 20 women ambassadors to France.

“We thought it would be interesting to sit down and talk foreign policy as women,” Byrne-Nason said.

More recently, in conversation with bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, Irish woman Gráinne McCarthy, Byrne-Nason realised many of the top foreign and French journalists in Paris were women. On Monday, she brought the two groups together at the Embassy.

Guests included 10 women ambassadors and the female bureau chiefs of Bloomberg, the Economist, Financial Times, Guardian and New York Times. Rather than call it a “power lunch”, Byrne-Nason noted that her guests were “women who have powerful roles”.

Guest of honour was Marie-Christine Saragosse, president of France Médias Monde, which includes France 24 television and Radio France Internationale, and which reaches 300 million homes globally.

“Being a woman is neither a quality nor a defect,” Saragosse said. “It must not be an obstacle, nor does it entitle one to special treatment.”

Saragosse was proud to call herself a feminist. “I don’t think it’s a dirty word. For a long time, people would say, ‘Really?’ Women who boast of not being feminists are the worst.”

Statistics show that when fewer than one third of participants on a television talk shows are women, they are typecast.

During Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s trial on accusations of pimping, three out of nine guests on a programme on France 2 were women. All were asked if they had been victims of sexual harassment. “I was furious!” Saragosse said.

Senator Hélène Conway-Mouret, who lived for decades in Ireland, said she became a feminist upon returning to France. “In Ireland, I was promoted to a job [at DIT] that I never would have been given in France. France is the country of the rights of man,” she said.

She had just returned from the Socialist party conference, where the five key figures were men. “There’s window-dressing, but a lot remains to be done in politics,” she said.

Begum Taj, ambassador for Tanzania, attempted to balance the discussion of female genital mutiliation in Africa.

“The African Union’s quota for women in government is 50 per cent,” she said. “In Rwanda, they’ve reached 59 per cent. The presidents of Liberia and Mauritius are women. In my country, 30 per cent of members of parliament, cabinet ministers and ambassadors are women, and salaries are completely equal.”

The editors of the Guardian and the Economist are women. “It’s very important to see it as a position that was merited,” the Economist bureau chief Sophie Pedder said of the recent appointment of Zanny Minton Beddoes, the magazine’s first women editor in 172 years.