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Spouses and government service

By DI / September 13, 1985



SPOUSES, usually wives, of Foreign Service personnel endure the moves, the bodily risks of an increasingly dangerous tenure abroad, and the widening economic disparity between the one-income couple overseas and the two-income household stateside. With all their hosting chores, spouses are in effect adjunct personnel. Especially in the case of divorce, they can be left high and dry by the government they can be said to have served, without accruing the independent job record, income, and career opportunities of their spouses.

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Private industry is beginning to do more to help spouses find work and continue careers as resistance grows to job moves. So should the government.

The State Department has announced a very limited program, involving six to 10 overseas posts over several years, to hire spouses for such roles as caterer-managers for embassy functions and as health workers for embassy communities. This is the department's answer to appeals by State Department spouses for payment for service abroad. Frankly, it looks like a minimal response. The roles envisioned are mostly ``support'' roles -- too much the pattern in diplomacy.

Naming one woman as US ambassador to the United Nations does not offset the impression of diplomacy as dominated by male values and prerogatives. Think of the photos of delegations entering and emerging from bigwig deliberations -- uniformly male. Government can do better.