In recognition of women's historical role in the Swiss diplomatic service, a room in the Federal Palace West now bears the name of Francesca Pometta, who was the first Swiss woman to enter the service in 1957 and appointed Switzerland's first woman ambassador in 1977. The official inauguration took place on 7 March on the occasion of International Women's Day in the presence of Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis. "Throughout her career, Francesca Pometta was a great champion of multilateralism and Switzerland's place at the heart of the UN system. Now that Switzerland is serving as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, paying tribute to Francesca Pometta takes on a special significance," said Ignazio Cassis.
An infographic on one side of the room traces the increase in women ambassadors from 1957 to the present. The room also displays portraits of all the women who, for the first time, were appointed ambassador at a representation or as a senior manager in Bern. In making this symbolic gesture, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs hopes to encourage young people to enter the diplomatic service.
Francesca Pometta – a trailblazer
Some 26.5% of Swiss representations are currently headed by a woman ambassador. Diplomatic careers were not available to women until 1955 when the entrance exam was first introduced. Francesca Pometta was the first woman to take the exam in 1957. She subsequently served as head of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations in New York between 1982 and 1987, before becoming Switzerland's first ambassador to Italy, where she served from 1987 to 1991. Since then, women have become increasingly important to Swiss diplomacy. Since 2020, four of the six FDFA directorates have had a woman at the helm.
Clear progress, but challenges remain
To date, women have headed 76 of Switzerland's 115 bilateral and multilateral representations (embassies and permanent missions to international organisations), where as 39 of these have never had a head of mission.
Efforts to achieve gender equality at the FDFA are therefore bearing fruit. But challenges remain, especially in terms of increasing the number of women in managerial roles.
The FDFA's Action Plan 2028 is committed to promoting diversity at the FDFA, which includes achieving a gender balance and ensuring that Switzerland's four language communities are represented proportionally.
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