Apoorva Srivastava: Women in global diplomacy

Posted on Thursday, April 13th, 2023

Written by Dilshan Fernando

Women are political trailblazers in India. Breaking the glass ceiling in their chosen careers, women have powered India through to a more equal world.

Apoorva Srivastava, the Consul General of India to Canada in Toronto, is following the footsteps of Chonira Belliappa Muthamma, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Nirupama Menon Rao, Sushma Swaraj and many other women who have contributed to the country’s foreign policy.

Srivastava addressing the attendees at the 74th Republic Day Celebrations at the Consulate General of India, Toronto

Srivastava is an accomplished diplomat with an impressive foreign service track record. She has served in many Indian missions around the world, including Kathmandu, Paris and the SAARC Division in Delhi. She was also the Chief of Staff for the External Affairs Minister in New Delhi.

Growing up, she moved across Uttar Pradesh, following her father's public service postings. The impact of his work sowed the seeds of her diplomatic career. Later, she went on to write the incredibly challenging Indian civil service exam.

Srivastava says women have a global citizenship mindset. She believes that women diplomats globally - and particularly in India - succeed because of their fortitude to disrupt norms.

Launch of the expanded India-Canada air transport agreement on 14 Nov 2022 at the Toronto Pearson Airport

Today, 25 percent of India's diplomatic corps is made up of women, a significant improvement over the past.

“Apart from gender equality and diversity, I think women bring a unique perspective to the whole world of diplomacy,” says Srivastava. “Women have this innate ability to negotiate well and resolve conflict. We know how to solve problems in a more creative way.” 

The Indian Foreign Service is merit based, with relatively less gender bias. Since this was not the case earlier, Srivastava is proud of what women diplomats have been able to achieve. India’s first woman diplomat Muthamma won a legal battle against the practice of women diplomats having to resign upon marriage. Nevertheless, given the nature of the job, until recently, parents (including her own grandmother) were concerned whether women diplomats could marry. 

Srivastava at the "Polar-Bear Capital of the world" in October 2021 in Churchill, Manitoba

Another instance is when at the start of her career, she went through immigration with her diplomatic passport, she was asked, “so where is your father posted?” Not anymore.

Yet, unlike men, women who are spouses often give up their careers to join their husbands who are diplomats. There are only a few instances where male spouses of women diplomats do so. There is still some way to go to equality in this area, says Srivastava. And of course, the demand of balancing career and caregiving responsibilities presents a significant challenge. 

Srivastava recalls her early mentor, Preeti Saran, former Consul General of India in Toronto. “She was my first boss, and I got a lot of inspiration from her…about diplomacy, about the way she managed work-life balance.” Srivastava is proud about leading India’s diplomatic mission while being an active part of the lives of her two daughters. 

Srivastava urges women who are aspiring diplomats not to give up.

The gains of this lucrative career opportunity that only some will eventually pursue are immense. She adds, ''The Indian Foreign Service offers tremendous opportunities to serve your country in a wide variety of situations. You get to travel, meet interesting people, visit different cultures; it expands your horizons and improves you as a person. At the end, nothing beats the reward of representing the country.''  

Srivastava at the welcome ceremony for the Indian international students in June 2022, at Centennial College

Srivastava urges aspiring young women to become more adaptable to challenging environments, become aware of intricate global issues, and inculcate a wealth of cultural knowledge. 

She says this is where knowledge hubs like CIRCLE can be beneficial to jump start students’ intercultural competence and introduce them to world affairs. 

Srivastava is soon taking up a new post in Slovakia as Ambassador of India. CIRCLE offers her our best wishes. 

Dilshan Fernando is a student writer for CIRCLE. He is in the third year of his PhD at the University of Guelph.

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