Venetia van Kuffeler meets International Affairs and Relations Adviser to the President of the Council of Ministers in Lebanon Karma Ekmekji
KARMA EKMEKJI is the Head of the International Affairs and Relations Unit at the office of the President of the Council of Ministers (PCM) of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, where she serves as an adviser and the focal point for all international dossiers. She operates as the interface between the office of the PCM and the diplomatic community. She is also a professor of International Affairs.
Stemming from a strong interest in empowering women in the field of diplomacy, peacemaking, mediation and negotiation, Karma founded the ‘Diplowomen’ concept, a physical and digital platform that acts as a hub for knowledge sharing, mentoring and networking in this field. Karma is a member of the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network.
Karma was selected to take part in the British government’s International Leaders Programme (2016-17) and was named one of 2012’s top 99 foreign policy leaders under the age of 33 by the Diplomatic Courier.Karma is married to Hani Hammoud and is the mother of two boys.
Why are women important in the future of effective diplomacy?
Inclusive diplomacy is the only way forward in effective diplomacy. There is no peace without women. The crises we are seeing in Sudan, Libyaand Yemenare suffering first hand from the lack of women in their respective peace processes. Although we have great examples of how the role of women have had direct impact on peace in Colombia, the Philippinesand Liberia, we are still far from where we would like to be. Despite all the academic research that has presented us with empirical proof on how more women in diplomacy, negotiation, conflict resolution and peace talks results in effective diplomacy, in attaining peace (and peace that is on average 15 years more sustainable and durable), and despite all the legal frameworks provided whether by the Beijing Conference, or Security Council Resolutions or the SDG agenda, despite all the momentum we see today, we are falling short of seeing women in key decision making positions in high-level diplomacy. We still have to break that glass ceiling. This is bound to change if governments and multilateral institutions want themselves to be sustainable and durable.
What is ‘Diplowomen’? How did it come about and why?
Diplowomen started as a hashtag! A hashtag to raise awareness about the need to have more women in diplomacy, security, mediation, negotiation, conflict resolution and peace building. A hashtag to encourage girls who feel like politics and diplomacy is a ‘man’s world’ to venture into this field with confidence and work on changing this perception. It also aimed at portraying the women who are in this industry and expose the great work they are doing. Diplowomen is a living proof of the power of a hashtag. Soon, I was approached by many women, but more importantly men, to see how we can grow this into something more tangible. I found a great home for Diplowomen at the Foundation of Opportunity founded by the UK’s former Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher CMG, an old friend, colleague, and great inspiration to me.
Tom Fletcher explains: “I am delighted that The Foundation for Opportunity is supporting the Diplowomen initiative, led by Karma. Women will lead the renewal of diplomacy that the world so badly needs. We hope that this work helps them build the networks, skills and knowledge to do that.”
We are now working together to develop the Diplowomen platform, a digital space for mentorship, sharing ideas, and advocacy to lobby for more women in key decision-making positions in Diplomacy. Women are too often given portfolios seen as ‘soft’. It is time to change all that. And Diplowomen will prove why.
Can you tell us how your experiences as a woman in politics and diplomacy have formed you into the person you are today?
I don’t think there is any other field in the world that requires you to be a people person as much as politics and diplomacy. My experience in this field made me more patient. It has helped me square circles not only in my professional life but also in my personal life. It’s an industry that teaches you to deconstruct a problem and simplify it and put it in the context of the greater scheme of things because if you don’t, then you will be overwhelmed by all its intricacies and complications. But I still have a long way to go and I look forward to embracing all the challenges this world throws my way with an open heart and an open mind.
You’ve spoken of the need for men to believe the role of women in diplomacy is indispensable. How? What advice can you offer governments in order to effectively integrate women into diplomacy?
I believe that men must play a pivotal role in advancing Diplowomen. We need He for Shes in this industry. There are great examples of governments who have worked in recent years to effectively integrate women in diplomacy which we can learn much from such as Sweden, Canadaand Norway. These are countries who struggled, just like other governments, to integrate women, but have made a clear policy decision to do so. So, the key is to have political will. Another approach is to engage the private sector on the need to have more women in diplomacy and have it, in turn, lobby governments to do so.
What’s involved in your role as the interface between the diplomatic community and the office of the President of the Council of Ministers?
My day-to-day role involves maintaining relations for the Prime Minister of Lebanon, H.E. Saad Hariri, a true He for She, with the diplomatic community, multilateral institutions, counterparts in different capitals around the world and liaising with our Foreign Ministry. I also advise on foreign policy.
In 2012, you were recognised as a foreign policy leader under the age of 33. How do you think this came about?
Well first I must acknowledge that this came about because I had friends and colleagues in the field of diplomacy who believed in me and nominated me to be on the list. This brings me to a very important point that is the essence of Diplowomen and lies in the heart of this initiative: peer-to-peer support, professional support and mentorship. I am where I am today because my sacrifices, my dedication and my efforts were recognised by my peers and superiors, both locally and internationally. I want to build this network of support for other women.
What do you think is Lebanon’s greatest diplomatic challenge?
Lebanon is geographically located in the Middle East, in the heart of a volatile region and has had many proxy wars fought on its land during its history. Today, as tensions in the region continue to heighten, Lebanon’s biggest diplomatic challenge is to keep the state disassociated from regional conflicts and to insulate itself from potential spill-overs through maintaining a strong and calibrated relationship with the different regional and international players that tango in the Middle East, while respecting commitment to Arab consensus on common issues and refusing foreign intervention in Arab internal affairs.
Throughout your field of work, no doubt you’ve met many influential people. Who intrigued you the most and why?
Chancellor Angela Merkel. A true Diplowomen. She is wise, strong, firm, and has been able to garner and maintain the support of the people over the years. She has engaged in constructive dialogue on various issues that challenge the world today. She has been able to move from being a German leader to a global leader.
What advice can you offer young people interested in pursuing a career in diplomacy?
You need to want it really badly and for the long run. It’s a career that is very demanding; it requires a lot of passion but very little emotion. To young people, I say, give it your all.
What do you think has been the most memorable day or event of your career to date?
The assassination of a great diplomat, who was also my mentor and supervisor, Dr Mohamad Chatah, in a car bomb in downtown Beirut in December 2013.