HomeLearning CenterGloria de la Fuente: ‘Female leadership tends to be more inclusive’

Gloria de la Fuente: ‘Female leadership tends to be more inclusive’

Originally published by Cecilia Ballesteros for EL Pais International

Feminism has also arrived to diplomacy. Gloria de la Fuente, 47, is Chile’s undersecretary of foreign affairs and the face of feminist foreign policy in Gabriel Boric’s progressive government. The initiative for a feminist foreign policy was launched in 2014 by Sweden and has since been joined by Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Canada, Luxembourg, Germany and France. The political scientist and academic was recently in Madrid for a whirlwind 24-hour visit during which she met with members of the Spanish government to continue promoting an egalitarian international relations agenda. The daughter of an attorney and a hairstylist, De la Fuente is a firm believer in merit and in the fight for equal opportunities. “Female leadership tends to be more inclusive,” she says in an interview that took place in the Spanish capital’s Casa de América.

Question. What is feminist foreign policy?

Answer. It has to do with Chile’s foreign policy commitment to democracy and human rights. It’s very difficult or even impossible to think about democracy in the 21st century without gender equality, which involves more than 50% of the population. International conflicts and climate change impact women and young girls in an unequal way, which in many cases, leads to forced migrations. In President Boric’s government, we have looked to promote and give visibility to this feminist agenda in order to consolidate important advances made in recent years.

Q. What would be the feminist approach to the two current conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine?

A. We assume that, when conflicts like this exist and cause many deaths or the displacement of many people, they will affect men, women and children unequally. We are focused on the role that women play, not just on how they suffer from international conflicts, but also on the role that they play in the search for peace, as the United Nations’s Resolution 1325 proposes. For example, with regard to Gaza and the Russian invasion in Ukraine, what we do is direct our international cooperation towards humanitarian aid that goes to their vulnerable populations: in the case of international donations, we turn to institutions like UNICEF and in the case of Gaza, to the UNRWA.

Q. There have been powerful women with very distinct profiles: Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Michelle Bachelet, Dilma Rousseff, Hillary Clinton and Sanna Marin. Do they have characteristics in common?

A. In general, female leadership tends to be more inclusive. When Bachelet assumed power, I was just over 20 years old, and up until that moment, it was impossible to think that a woman in Chile could be president of the republic. The day she won, there were many young girls celebrating her victory wearing a presidential sash. That is a symbol that demonstrates that it is possible for women to rise to the highest levels of power and that, additionally, in politics, failings and virtues can be distributed equally.

Q. Have you had difficulties in your career due to being a woman?

A. People always ask who is taking care of my daughter or where my husband is. I don’t see them asking men that. And to clarify, I am a happily dedicated mother and wife. We are, first and foremost, a team. But rather than difficulties, I prefer to focus on challenges; in my current position, I feel a tremendous responsibility to open doors for other women, because I know that that the road we’ve traveled hasn’t been easy for me nor for the others. In its more than 150 years of existence, our ministry of [foreign relations] has only had two women ministers and three undersecretaries, and those in the most recent quarter-century.

Q. Do you believe in meritocracy?

A. I believe in merit, but for that to be a reality, there needs to be a basic starting point for developing one’s life project. Mine has been a story of effort, but in the schools I attended and the rest of my life, I saw a lot of talent wasted from a lack of material conditions and educational and socio-affective resources. Merit is possible when the conditions to develop talent are equal for all.

Q. Is more demanded from women in politics?

A. The fact that there are women in politics or other spaces of representation in society levels the playing field, no more and no less. I say this because women in politics or with power are often asked to possess extraordinary qualities much more than men. The demand for excellence should be equal for both, and not just for women. Virtues and failings are equally distributed. To demand that women have more qualities than men seems to me to be a mistake. Excellence is a must, independent of a person’s gender or orientation, particularly when it comes to public officials.

Q. Feminist foreign policy is an idea that was born in Europe. How does it apply to a region as unequal as Latin America?

A. The concept of the Global South is often debated, which is good. But it’s important to be conscious that women face more exaggerated inequality and other glass ceilings in Latin America. Many women are in charge of the care of sick people and children, and that imposes limitations on their development projects. In welfare societies, where there is greater state support, this tends to be mitigated.

Back to News