Women’s CEO Summit: Aleksandra Joksimović – How Women Change the Face of International Relations

On the occasion of the Women’s CEO Summit conference, which will be held on March 14, 2024 at the Madeleine Palace of Arts in Belgrade, we had the pleasure of speaking with Aleksandra Joksimović, the former Serbian ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Through this conversation, Joksimović shares her rich experiences and challenges she faced during her five-year mandate in one of the most complex diplomatic centers in the world, emphasizing the importance of women in diplomacy and the need for their greater inclusion in international relations and politics.

As a former ambassador of Serbia to Great Britain, can you describe to us how your experience as a woman in a high diplomatic position influenced the perception of Serbia in international relations? Do you think that the presence of women in important diplomatic positions can significantly affect foreign policy and international relations?

I had the honor, pleasure and responsibility of serving as the first female ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to the United Kingdom. In the world of diplomacy, London is considered one of the most demanding and complex diplomatic places. The circumstances surrounding my five-year term were extremely challenging. Both on a global and domestic political level. The United Kingdom was going through political turbulence of historic character.

Negotiations with the EU on the implementation of Brexit, the covid pandemic, the Ukrainian crisis, the replacement of four prime ministers and seven ministers for Europe are just some of the major political changes in a short period of time. Historical circumstances were followed by events in the royal family. Marking 70 years since Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, then her death, funeral and coronation of King Charles III. The speed and forms of communication have transformed the diplomatic service. In the United Kingdom, women managed to take over the most important diplomatic centers from Berlin, Beijing to New York and Washington as part of an organized campaign within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. At the same time, the Republic of Serbia sends women to important positions. By the way, the diplomatic community in London, which is one of the largest in the world, has about 20% of women in the positions of ambassadors and high commissioners. Over time, women have networked in order to promote the topics of gender equality and organize gatherings where special emphasis would be on the promotion of greater participation of women.

What are the biggest challenges and problems you have faced as a woman in a high position in diplomacy? How did you overcome them and what advice would you give to young women aspiring to break into similar fields?

The challenges were not directly related to equality: the implementation of Brexit, covid, the Ukrainian crisis, four prime ministers and seven ministers for Europe under our direct responsibility. It happened that they were replaced so quickly that you didn’t even get to meet the newly appointed one, and the new one had already arrived. In Britain, the general problem related to the region was: limited visits by high-ranking officials of the United Kingdom, their view of us is regional and often organizing collective meetings. I overcame the problem by frequent movement and conversations at every gathering of the diplomatic corps where they appeared. In the last year of the mandate, the rule among colleagues was that if you don’t recognize anyone present at the event, ask Aleksandra. I gave motivational speeches together with their politicians and other members of

the diplomatic corps about the need for greater participation of women in political and diplomatic life. When I was young, I believed that equality and equal opportunities existed and that it was only a matter of women’s choice whether they would accept and use them. Today, when I have a great life experience behind me (not to quantify it), I realize that women still have a big fight ahead of them to achieve the same results as their male counterparts with the same percentage of invested effort. I teach my daughters every day to recognize small but important signals of the formation of prejudices about inequality, starting from rude jokes to more serious signals that limit the equal progress of the sexes in today’s global world.

How do you see the current position of women in Serbia, especially in the context of leading positions in business and politics? What changes do you think are needed to improve gender equality and empower women to take on key roles in society?

If we were to look at the global ranking of the importance of diplomatic centers, I was the highest ranked woman in the B.Sc. service of Serbia. When I was leaving, my friend asked me if I could do that, I never asked him anything like that when he assumed a high position in international organizations. There is an impression that EU integration is being left to women, which raises doubts about the importance attached to this issue. I know this statement sounds controversial, but it’s just forced. One of the many challenges, and for me very impressive, was to explain to a large number of pro-Brexit politicians, in important positions, why EU membership is a strategic external goal of the Republic of Serbia. The mandate was marked by probably the lowest level of diplomatic relations with the EU and the USA in recent history. During that period, diplomacy was dominated by negative charge and harsh statements addressed to the domestic public. Ukraine was actually a turning point and a re-establishment of close cooperation between the UK and the EU. The common goal and the security challenge softened the mutual differences.

Serbia is currently represented in the UK in the best, most positive way possible by two women, writer Vesna Goldsworthy and creator Roksanda Ilinčić. What is completely inexplicable to me is the absence of our press on the achievements of these women. Among other things, Vesna’s novel The Iron Curtain was named among the 10 best last year. Vesna normally writes in English. Her books have been translated, she is coming to Belgrade, but again her fame is much greater in the UK than in Serbia. An even more drastic example seems to me in connection with Roksand. Her creations are worn by Kate Middleton to Cate Blanchett and Michelle Obama. This year, Buckingham Palace awarded her the title of MBE, which is a high rank in the British hierarchy, without a single article about it appearing in our press or media. At the same time, both are very positively engaged within the Serbian diaspora in the UK, responding to various invitations to participate in events ranging from educational to humanitarian events. For me, these are some indicators that our women, even when they are successful in the world, do not receive adequate treatment in their own country. Those are things we still have to work on.

You can register for the Women’s CEO Summit here.

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