Chevening Alumna paves the way for women in diplomacy in The Bahamas

Twenty years after her Chevening Scholarship, alumna Jerusa Ali now works as Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Jerusa shares her Chevening journey and her advice for new Chevening Alumni.

I am from The Bahamas, an archipelagic state of over 700 islands in the Northern Caribbean. I grew up in New Providence, but my family traces their roots back to Rum Cay and Eleuthera.

I was inspired by my colleagues in government to apply for the Chevening Scholarship, as I knew coworkers who had studied in the UK with Chevening in the past. I found an interdisciplinary programme in International Relations at Keele University that fit exactly what I was looking for.

At the time, one of the professors at Keele was Dr. Hidemi Suganami, whose approach to international relations was influenced by his background in philosophy, international law, and economics. His research inspired me to apply for the course and to challenge myself to understand how narratives shaped by larger states contributed to the exclusion of smaller states in international relations.

Twenty years later, I now work as Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. My work is focused on effectively managing the delivery of Bahamian foreign policy objectives. The issue of climate change is central to Bahamian foreign policy.

As a climate-vulnerable small island state, development, security, trade, health, and human rights are all impacted heavily by climate change.

Part of my job is to seek opportunities for co-operation with like-minded states. I work with a team of dedicated Bahamian diplomats and foreign service officers and we use the tools of diplomacy to help shape policies around technical co-operation, climate change and security, and adaptation and mitigation.

The greatest obstacle I have faced in my career is gender stereotyping and unconscious bias. I have never forgotten my first day teaching my course on conflict negotiation and mediation for diplomats. One of the students asked me if I had seen the professor yet. I hesitated and then turned towards the group of students, and said, ‘I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am your professor.’

Fields like politics, international law, and diplomacy can still be dominated by men. Unconscious biases and social stereotypes impact women in diplomacy.

My hope is that the next generation of women in diplomacy do not face the same obstacles.

I feel incredibly proud of all of my students. A few years ago I met a student of mine from New York on the way to her job in Sudan. She remembered me and we spoke about her journey, from learning about refugee and migration law to putting it to use in her fieldwork. We are all students in a way and I believe that teaching and mentorship are important in any work environment.  

To any Chevening Alumni returning to their home country this year, my advice would be to remember that reverse culture shock is real. You may need to adjust from experiencing the diversity of the UK and the anonymity of being one of many international students in a big city. During moments when you are missing your friends, the library, your professors, or your Sainsbury’s online order, reach out to other Chevening Alumni. After almost 20 years, I am still in contact with the Chevening Scholars I studied with from India, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Albania and Portugal. And I am grateful.""



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