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It is important for women to recognise and take their own power — JoAnne Wagner

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By Erum Noor Muzaffar
Tue, 12, 18

In an exclusive interview with You!, Consul General Wagner talks about her work and campaign ‘Yeh Ghalat Hai’ initiated by US Consulate with regard to 16 Days of Activism...

In an exclusive interview with You!, Consul General Wagner talks about her work and campaign ‘Yeh Ghalat Hai’ initiated by US Consulate with regard to 16 Days of Activism...

JoAnne Wagner assumed her position as the United States Consul General in Karachi, on June 21, 2018. A career member of the United States Senior Foreign Service, she most recently served in Washington, DC with the Board of Examiners, helping to select the next generation of U.S. diplomats. Prior to that, CG Wagner was the U.S. Assistance Coordinator in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she was responsible for coordinating U.S. Government support activities with the Ukrainian Government and other donors.

Consul General Wagner also served as Minister-Counsellor for Political Affairs at the United States Mission to the European Union, Deputy Director of the Office of Pakistan Affairs, Deputy Counsellor for Political-Military Affairs at the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi.

Consul General Wagner has a Juris Doctor from Saint Louis University School of Law and a Masters in National Security Strategy from the National War College of the National Defense University. She is also an occasional amateur composer; her first piece debuted at Brussels’ Palais des Beaux Arts with a 100-voice choir and full symphony orchestra.

In an exclusive interview with You!, Consul General Wagner talks about her work, life of a diplomat and a campaign ‘Yeh Ghalat Hai’ initiated by US Consulate this year with regard to 16 Days of Activism...

JoAnne enjoys popcorn from a local vendor with Yasmeen Lari.

How long have you been in the Foreign Service?

JoAnne Wagner: Since 1994, which I find hard to believe.

You were an attorney; what got you interested in joining the Foreign Service?

JW: I always have been interested in what’s going on elsewhere and I was very fortunate that when I was in law school, I got a job in Switzerland, which was the first time that I had ever been overseas. It really whet my appetite for recognising that there are things that can be done in other countries and there are ways to get to know other people, other cultures as well. After I had practiced law for a little while I realised probably it wasn’t a right place for me; so when I was looking around, joining the foreign service was a way to give back to my country as well as to learn, to satisfy this curiosity that I have about the rest of the world. So being a diplomat serves all - contributing, learning and enjoying - all in one bunch!

How important is it to have a talent for languages in joining the Foreign Service?

JW: There is immense support from the State Department. One of the nice things about our State Department is that it actually teaches you languages like Urdu, or Spanish or French. Unfortunately, it’s not a particular talent that I have but I am learning a bit of Urdu too.

Do you believe women in diplomacy can make a difference?

JW: Without a doubt. If you look at the recent history of the State department, we had several women who have been secretaries of State, several women who have been National Security Advisors. There is a study that when women are involved in peace making, these peace agreements have a tendency to last longer.

JoAnne Wagner with the interviewer at the US Consulate.

What are your views on women empowerment?

JW: It is important for women to recognise and take their own power. It does not necessarily mean being aggressive, but it means that you recognise that you have talent, skills, intelligence, and things to contribute - like any other man. It is so important that women do this. I mean what country can afford not to take advantage of the contribution of half of its population.

Do you think women in power are the best ones to promote women’s rights?

JW: It’s not a question of who the best is or who is better. I think it is really important to have partnerships because for women who step forward, they also have men who are very supportive of them. It’s about how can we work together to advance our entire community and entire society.

What is it like to be a diplomat or an ambassador representing your country?

JW: It’s a privilege, and I feel proud to represent the people of United States in the foreign land.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your job?

JW: You get to know people and cultures from different backgrounds and languages. One of the things that I have learnt, over and over again, is how much more we are alike than we are different. How much more there is that unite us than separate us. So having the opportunity, to explore those things has been the most rewarding aspect. But at the same time it can be the most challenging because governments don’t always agree with your ideas. So, you have to find a common ground that you can build around - the values you share, the aspirations you share, the goals that you share.

What are some of the perks of being a diplomat?

JW: Well, it is an incredible lifestyle. There are stereotypes about it. People think that you spend time here at cocktail parties and doing social things. Well, it’s true, you do attend lot of social functions but it is work. It is part of your job - establishing relationships, getting to know people talking about issues, trying to find what the common ground is; what can be worked together for the benefit of both of our countries. The feeling that you are doing something important and being productive and contributing gives you a high.

It is amazing to live in different places. I cannot imagine any other job I might have had where I would have to go to South Asia, and in Africa and in Europe. It is an astonishing thing to have this kind of exposure. My colleagues with kids talk about raising these global citizens who can appreciate all the wonderful ways of celebrating culture.

What may be the low points of being a diplomat?

JW: It’s very challenging work and it is not a 9 to 5 job by any means. You are away from your families. In countries where you are more visible, privacy is bit of an issue. People don’t always agree with the policies that the government has adopted. But since we represent the State Department, we have to carry out those policies. For me, it’s always been something that I am very happy to do so.

When I was teaching the orientation classes, one of the things that we discussed very straightforwardly was that if you don’t agree with the policy, you can bring your own ideas that can perhaps be considered by the State Department. And I find the system takes the inputs by the diplomats very seriously.

What does a typical day looks like for you?

JW: No daily grind. Every single day is a pleasure to work with my dynamic public diplomacy team. Let’s take for example today: we started out with our meetings with Islamabad - make sure we are at the same wavelength. This is part of our weekly meetings; The Consulate coordinates with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and the United States Consulates in Lahore and Peshawar. Then after that I had a meeting with some of the government officials of Sindh as we support their efforts in the development sphere especially in education and health sector. We are hosting an event tonight for University Chancellors and Vice chancellors to talk about US education programmes.

Can you tell us about the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence?

JW: Every year on November 25 The United States commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, then after that there is 16 Days of Activism to help create awareness, it concludes December 10 with Human Rights Day. This is something that was established by United Nations in 1999. The global action for governments, NGOs, civil societies, people, and individuals to recognise there is a general need to end gender based violence.

US Consul General at the CAC ceremony at Central Police Office Sindh.

What is gender-based violence?

JW: Any kind of attack whether it is verbal or physical against people because of their gender. It is a global phenomenon. It affects men too.

How will the US Consulate commemorate the 16 Days this year?

JW: We are starting off with an Orange Day - orange is associated with the 16 Days and symbolises our campaign. All our residential and official buildings will remain illuminated in orange throughout our campaign. There are a number of events being held in Karachi, Khairpur and Larkana, there will be group discussions, dialogues, theatre performances, seminars, workshops, self-defence sessions, storytelling sessions etc.

Tell us about the ‘Yeh Ghalat Hai’ campaign?

JW: This year we are running a full fledge campaign - ‘Yeh Ghalat Hai’ which is a part of our 16 Days of Activism. This is an initiative taken by US consulate on social media in a bid to create awareness - helping people recognise what is gender based violence, what is disrespect, because a lot of this is grounded in the lack of respect, lack of understanding.

Why is gender equality important?

JW: Any society that ignores the contributions of half of its population is not living up to its potential. There are studies in US which show that corporations that have women on board of directors are financially more profitable. It’s plain economic reason.

What inspires you the most about Pakistani women?

JW: It is their commitment that they are going to do something; the commitment to their country, their ability to speak with poise and knowledge. I met some of the girls at one of our Shebatec sessions, which was a competition, and I was impressed by their level of confidence and enthusiasm.

In which country did you enjoy your tenure as a diplomat the most?

JW: I have never had a warm welcome anywhere else in the world as I had in Pakistan. This has been the most hospitable and genuine welcome. And it makes me very optimistic about what I might be able to continue to do together.

Counsul General on her visit to Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum in Karachi.

What do you like best about Pakistani culture?

JW: One of the most moving visits that I had right after I got here was of Quaid Azam’s mausoleum. Seeing that and recognising this profound vision that Pakistan’s leader had for this country of being peaceful and prosperous really struck me. This is a very similar vision that some of the founders of USA had. It reminded me again how much we have in common.

I also visited State Bank’s beautifully done Museum. There are coins from the time of Alexander the Great. It really brought the richness, the diversity of influences centuries after centuries that made Pakistan what it is. It seems that would be a terrific thing to remind people about.

At PACC (Pakistan American Cultural Centre), there was celebration of 70 years of friendship between America and Pakistan. And the whole focus was on culture with traditional dance (again from all of these different cultural influences) and musical instruments. All these things put together are giving me different pictures of Pakistani culture.

Do you like Pakistani cuisine?

JW: There are many Americans here at the Consulate who like Pakistani food so much; we have been talking about what happens when we leave. How are we going to have Pakistani food? I have a big kitchen in my house, so we are going to have Pakistani cooking lessons there for the Americans.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

JW: When I joined the State department, I had no intention of coming to this part of the world. Then one day somebody said something and I thought maybe I should take another look at it. I started doing some research and I thought maybe I could work on this. It’s my third trip. There is something about this country, so you never know I may come again here after 5 years.

How do you keep balance between your personal life & professional life?

JW: You need to take a step back, take a breath, and need to set your priorities so that you continue contributing without being exhausted.

How do you unwind?

JW: I love to read. I have read couple of books by Pakistani authors including Sorayya Khan’s novel ‘City of Spice’. These novels give a wonderful flavour of Pakistan. I love to see musical performances. I am a big fan of Broadway musicals and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. And I am quite determined to get to understand cricket before I leave. There is a Pakistani man who is working on a project to build a big cricket stadium in Houston, Taxes. And it is starting to affect US as well.

A message for our readers?

JW: When women are fore players in a society or in a community, the entire society and community benefits. I have seen here in Pakistan women have tremendous enthusiasm and I strongly encourage them to continue to take their power and contribute to their country.

Erum Noor Muzaffar is the editor of You! magazine. She can be contacted at iram29@hotmail.com