In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender and Diplomacy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Gender in Foreign Policy Implementation

International Relations Gender and Diplomacy
Birgitta Niklasson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0316


The scholarship on gender and diplomacy is a young research field; most of the works referenced here have been written since the mid-2000s, although the first studies appeared in the late 1960s. Still, this is not very long ago considering how far back in history diplomacy as a phenomenon reaches (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “History of Diplomacy”), but also in relation to mainstream research on diplomacy (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Diplomacy”). Perhaps this is not very surprising though, given that other adjacent fields focusing on gender are also young (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles “Gender and International Relations,” under the subject Political Science; “Women and Peacemaking/Peacekeeping”; “Feminist Security Studies”; “Women and Conflict Studies,” also found under Political Science; and “Gender and International Security,” located under International Law). What distinguishes the research on gender and diplomacy from those related fields is its focus on the role of gender in bilateral interactions via representatives that concern the relationship between the two states involved. Negotiation is one form that these interactions may take, which is why references to negotiation studies are sometimes included here when they involve diplomats. These studies primarily belong to a separate research field, however (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution”). The early studies on gender and diplomacy primarily concentrate on women’s informal roles in diplomacy. In fact, the great majority of these studies are of women in diplomacy, for example, as diplomatic wives or members of powerful families, since the number of women admitted formally into the foreign services as professionals was very low before the 1970s. After this, women started pursuing diplomatic careers in growing numbers and the research field shifted somewhat to follow their struggles. Similar research questions guide both studies on diplomatic wives and female professionals, however. They concern to what positions, posts, and tasks women are assigned; the structures and norms of the institutions to which they are associated; and the impact that gender diversity and gender awareness might have on how diplomacy it is done, organized, and perceived. The methods applied in answering these questions are primarily qualitative case studies of individual diplomats, or Ministries of Foreign Affairs in the Western world, particularly of the United States and Great Britain. There are some examples of ethnographic work and systematic comparative and statistical studies, but they are few. The research is also largely empirical and descriptive, which leaves much room for stringent theoretical analyses, causal investigations, and theory development.

General Overviews

There are few general overviews of the research on gender and diplomacy specifically, although there are such overviews on related subjects (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles “Gender and International Relations,” under Political Science; “Women and Peacemaking/Peacekeeping”; “Feminist Security Studies”; “Women and Conflict Studies,” also under Political Science; and “Gender and International Security,” found under International Law. The chapter Towns, et al. 2017 and the paper Aggestam and Towns 2019 thus constitute two rare examples. In both cases, the authors argue that the research on gender and diplomacy needs to move beyond descriptions of Western case studies and expand the kinds of theories and methodologies used, as well as in what contexts these are applied. However, Niklasson and Towns 2022 introduces a special issue that focuses specifically on gender and Ministries of Foreign Affairs in Western as well as non-Western contexts. Studies on the adjacent field of gender in international negotiations appear to have suffered from the same limitations; Kray and Thompson 2004 shows that this research also revolves around different kinds of actors (negotiators) to a large extent. Kolb 2009 observes, however, that the focus has turned lately from individuals to the role of institutionlized social practices and their theoretical implications.

  • Aggestam, Karin, and Ann Towns. “The Gender Turn in Diplomacy: A New Research Agenda.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 21.1 (2019): 9–28.

    DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2018.1483206

    This paper states that research on gender and diplomacy needs to move beyond descriptions based on Western case studies. Instead, scholars should focus on systematic comparisons, as well as on ethnographic studies in order to build a dynamic research field that covers the development of gendered institutions over time, in addition to micro-processes of gender norms. The normative potential of international feminist theory in diplomatic studies is also stressed.

  • Kolb, Deborah M. “Too Bad for the Women or Does It Have to Be? Gender and Negotiation Research over the Past Twenty-Five Years.” Negotiation Journal 25.4 (2009): 515–531.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1571-9979.2009.00242.x

    Relevant research is related to four research questions: Who comes to the table? What happens there? How do negotiations develop? What are the implications for theory and practice? Kolb concludes that the research field has developed in two ways: (1) a shift from an essentialist perspective on gender to a social constructivist one, and (2) focus has turned from individuals to the role of institutionlized social practices. Available online by subscription.

  • Kray, Laura J., and Leigh Thompson. “Gender Stereotypes and Negotiation Performance: An Examination of Theory and Research.” Research in Organizational Behavior 26 (2004): 103–182.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0191-3085(04)26004-X

    The research on gender and negotiation performance is summarized thematically according to five theoretical perspectives: focal negotiator, negotiating partner, negotiating dyad interaction, situation, and focal negotiator in combination with situation. The paper also lists the independent variables, behavioral and outcome measures, task characteristics, and major gender findings of 104 papers related to these perspectives through, for example, studies on prisoner’s dilemma-type games and behavioral negotiation tasks. Available online by subscription.

  • Niklasson, Birgitta, and Ann E. Towns. “Introduction: Approaching Gender and Ministries of Foreign Affairs.” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 17 (2022): 339–369.

    DOI: 10.1163/1871191x-bja10123

    This paper introduces a special issue including eight case studies applying a gender perspective on ministries of foreign affairs. It also makes up a contribution in itself by analyzing the scholarship on gender and Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs). The focus of previous research is divided it into three categories: 1) MFAs as gendered institutions, 2) gender and relations between domestic forces, and 3) gender and international relations of MFAs.

  • Towns, Ann E., Anne-Kathrin Kreft, and Birgitta Niklasson. “The Empowerment of Women in Diplomacy.” In Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment across the Globe: Strategies, Challenges and Future Research. Edited by Amy C. Alexander, Catherine Bolzendahl, and Farida Jalalzai, 187–205. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2017.

    This chapter divides the existing research on gender and diplomacy into three categories: those on diplomatic history, case studies of individual Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs), and causal and theoretically driven comparative studies. The authors conclude that the research on gender and diplomacy needs to engage more in thick, theoretically driven descriptions and causal analyses of the institutional and cultural conditions that affect and are affected by women’s role in diplomacy.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.