Vatican: More women ambassadors to the Holy See
During the recent strict lockdown imposed by the Italian government to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, and her Canadian colleague, Isabelle Savard, felt the need to exchange ideas informally, some 20 women ambassadors credited to the Holy See.
They soon came up with the idea to invite experts to participate in online debates and discussions, competent guests to background focussing on a range of issues relevant to the Church. Amongst the chosen topics, the ambassadors were interested in the Holy See’s response to Covid-19, the role of lay people in the Church, and the responsibilities and perspectives of women in the Vatican.
A short history of women ambassadors in the Vatican
Women have long been represented in the diplomatic corps, with the first female ambassador to the Holy See being an African woman. On 23 January 1975, the Holy See accredited Mrs Bernadette Olowo from Uganda as ambassador. Subsequently, first a few, then more and more countries sent female diplomats to the Vatican, with African women representing a constant presence.
In 1980 only Zambia had a female ambassador accredited to the Holy See; in 1990, there were five (Costa Rica, Ghana, Jamaica, New Zealand and Uganda); in the Jubilee Year 2000, the number of women ambassadors in the Vatican rose to eight (Philippines, Lesotho, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, USA, South Africa, Ukraine).
In 2010, sixteen (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Philippines, Gambia, Georgia, Jordan, India, Iceland, Netherlands, Pakistan, Panama, Poland, Suriname, Sweden, Tunisia, Ukraine). Finally, in 2021, twenty-six women ambassadors were accredited to the Holy See. According to the Secretariat of State, one hundred and thirty-five ambassadors are currently accredited to the Holy See.
European states have caught up in terms of sending female ambassadors to the Holy See: Austria, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and also the European Union currently have female diplomats representing their position at the Holy See.
With Chiara Porro, Australia has already sent its second female resident ambassador to the Vatican and it is not an isolated case; the same applies for the Philippines with Grace R. Princesa, and Argentina, Pope Francis’ home country, sent a woman ambassador for the first time during the current pontificate.