top of page

THE POWER OF WOMEN IN THE 21ST CENTURY Interview with H.E. Ms. Maria Edileuza Fontenele Reis

Ambassador Maria Edileuza Fontenele Reis is an experienced career diplomat.

She assumed her post as Ambassador of the Federative Republic of Brazil to the Republic of Bulgaria in 2020 after serving as the Permanent Delegate of Brazil to UNESCO.

She has also held high level positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brazil, among which:

- Undersecretary for Asian Affairs and Multiregional Mechanisms (2010¬-2013)

- Brazilian Sherpa to BRICS (2010-2013)

- Brazilian High-Level Officer for the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation

- Regional Coordinator for the South America - Africa Forum and the South America-Arab Countries Forum (2010-2013)

- Director-General of the Department of European Affairs (2006-2010)

Her Excellency holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Centro Studi Diplomatici e Strategici in Rome, Italy, and a Ph.D. in International Relations and Diplomacy at the École des Hautes Études en Relations Internationales.

She is a published author with an extensive bibliography and speaks 6 languages.

Ambassador Maria Edileuza Fontenele Reis has been recognized for her diplomatic achievements and excellence in the foreign service with Brazilian and foreign merit awards: Medal of the Peace-Maker (Command of Brazilian Army, 2012); Dominam Commendatariam Ordinis Sancti Gregori Magni (Holy See, 2009); Medal of the Order of Merit of the Japanese Immigration to Brazil (2008); National Order of Merit, Grand Officer (Republic of France, 2006) etc.

The Power of Women in Diplomacy

Your Excellences as a Female UN Representative could you describe your profession – the duties, challenges, and perspectives… And the power of cultural dialog in the Diplomacy in 21st century...

It is a privilege – and a great responsibility – to be an Ambassador, a position which implies the projection of your country abroad in several dimensions: political, economic, social, and cultural. It requires a deep knowledge of the interests and expectations of your own country, as well as a wide perception of the environment where you are working. Negotiation is the key element of our work, and to be successful you need to understand the position of your counterparts and also take into consideration their aspirations. It requires sensibility to the understanding of the history, culture, geography, economy, and national and international interests of the country where you are. Another key element to be observed by an Ambassador is the perception that different cultures are to be respected, not ignored, not compared, not overlooked. You can only perform well if you understand and accept the differences from within.

Cultural exchange is a powerful instrument of diplomacy. The promotion of the culture of your country, in its diverse artistic expressions, offers the world a better understanding of the soul of your people and your nation. In Bulgaria, I have been actively working on promoting our music, both popular and classical; our literature, through the translation of Brazilian classic and contemporary writers; our theater; our cinema (Brazil won the first prize in Sofia’s International Cinema Festival in 2021); and our painters. I am also bringing the work of important Brazilian street artists to Sofia by organizing a tour that will commence in Paris and will go through Romania and Bulgaria. You will be able to appreciate their talent as they will paint a building in Sofia.

The Power of Women in Politics

According the “Women in politics: 2021” map, created by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women, despite increases in the number of women at the highest levels of political power, widespread gender inequalities persist: progression in women holding ministerial portfolios has slowed, with just a small increase to from 21.3 per cent in 2020 to 21.9 per cent in 2021; the number of countries with no women in government has increased; and only 25.5 per cent of national parliamentarians are women, compared to 24.9 per cent the year before. Could Your Excellences share some positive trends of women empowerment in politics in your countries?

Brazil is very proud that the first woman elected President was the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant, born in Gabrovo. Dilma Rousseff was the first woman leader of Brazil in 200 years of independent history. About 52% of university students in Brazil are women and they are present in all sectors of Brazilian activity: education, engineering, medicine, public service, and private companies. However, the number of women in leading positions needs to increase, especially in the political sphere, where they represent only 15% in both houses of the Parliament. There have been changes in the law to stimulate the election of more women, as there is a continuous effort to increase the number women in high-ranking posts in the Administration. The government of Brazil inaugurated on January 1st, 2023, headed by President Lula, has a record number of women as Ministers, but we are still lagging behind European countries. In the foreign service, women represent about 25%, but only 15% have the rank of Ambassador. We have to do more, especially when we consider that in Brazil the majority of families are headed by women, with a great number of single or divorced mothers, who in most cases are the only source of income.

The Power of Women in business

Women in business: advantages, challenges, and opportunities! Your Excellencies would you summarize this topic regarding the situation in your country?

Another greatly significant result of the attention given to the promotion of women and greater gender equality by the Lula administration is that, for the first time in our history, the Presidents of the most important public banks in Brazil (Bank of Brazil and Caixa Econômica) are women. However, in the private business sector, it is still rare to find women as Presidents or CEOs of companies, although they are numerous as employees. It is important to know that the number of women entrepreneurs is increasing, as more and more women are opening their own businesses in various sectors. Brazil is a fast-developing country, well-integrated into the globalized chains of production, and we believe that a greater participation of women in all spheres of activity is an irreversible trend.

The Power of Women in Science

According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay observed that “even today, in the 21st century, women and girls are being sidelined in science-related fields due to their gender”. How can we indeed reduce the gender gap in science?

I had the privilege of being Ambassador to UNESCO before being posted to Bulgaria, and had the satisfaction of working with the Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, in the promotion of women in sciences. Over the centuries, science has been a male-dominated area with very few women as mathematicians, biologists, astronomists, etc. UNESCO has, since its creation in 1946, been actively dedicated to the promotion of greater access for women to scientific careers. One important contribution in this direction was the establishment, in 1998, of the UNESCO L’Oréal prize for women scientists and researchers in different fields. Every year, the UNESCO L’Oréal prize for women scientists and researchers identifies about 40 women from all over the world who excel in their studies and areas of activity, and brings awareness to the fact that they have a major impact in their communities and globally in laying the foundations for the future. Promoting women in science through international awards, not only by UNESCO but also by academic institutions and research centers, is an invaluable opportunity to recognize the talents of half the world population and to encourage more women to follow female role models. We are proud that every year, young and more experienced Brazilian scientists are included in the list of UNESCO’s women in sciences prize winners.

The Power of Women in Sport

Regarding the Sustainability Strategy of IOC “fostering gender equality and strengthening women`s empowerment in and through sport is also at the core of the mission of IOC.” Could you share with us the engagement of the women in your countries in the sports movement?

Today, for the first time in Brazilian history, we have a woman as the Minister of Sports. This Ministry was created in 1995 and Pelé was our first Minister of Sports. Now in 2023, Ana Moser, a former captain of the Brazilian National Olympic Volleyball team, is in charge of stimulating sports in Brazil in all areas, beginning with the promotion of sports in schools through to the participation of Brazilian national teams in international competitions. Our female Volleyball and Football teams are extremely competitive in all international competitions. Today, a greater number of women are involved in artistic gymnastics, athleticism, jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, surfing, and skateboarding. And they have won some of Brazil's most valuable gold medals. Every time a woman wins a medal, she inspires other women to join the sport, and in time, become champions themselves.

Every single girl and every single woman must have in mind that her place is where she wants to be!

So, women have to trust themselves applied themselves with education and hard working to accomplish all the dreams…

Yes, you can make it!


Top Stories

bottom of page