“It kind of came by chance. But as life has it, if you’re ready, you can grasp the opportunities when they come in your way.” These were the exact words of Bita Rasoulian, the ambassador of Austria to the Philippines, when asked about how she started her diplomatic career.
It was 33 degrees outside but even a hint of the weather’s temperature didn’t percolate on me as I sat down in one of the offices of the Austrian Embassy in Manila. I, together with my fellow interns had the opportunity to interview Ambassador Rasoulian. When she entered the room, everyone was just astonished by her presence. She is a resemblance of what success looks like. As soon as she started speaking she proved that she was every bit of it.
Her smile lit up the room as she began talking about her interests and love for the arts, celebrating the Klimt year and plans on doing artists residency program exchange between Filipino and Austrian artists.
The Austria and the Philippines have diplomatic relations for 71 years now. It has been 8 months since Rasoulian became the ambassador of the Austria to the Philippines. “We think there’s a lot of potential in the bilateral relations.” She expressed how Asia has a dynamic and growing market. She also gave us an overview of some of Austria’s priorities at the helm of the OSCE 2017 and as upcoming Chair of the Council of the European Union such as pressing issues regarding migration, terrorism, cybercrime, human trafficking and development interconnectivity. She pointed out a few of the transnational challenges that countries face and how to cooperate more closely together.
Concerning the issue on the subject about face cover ban in Austria, Ambassador Rasoulian clarified that the main idea of it is to facilitate integration and the assimilation so that you don’t stand out for any reason but you’re totally assimilated into the culture. It can mainly be on court rooms, public rooms and public establishments. There was never an intention to discriminate but rather a more reason to help them.
She also shared about her views in increasing awareness towards Gender-Based Violence. She strongly believes that making small beginnings can eventually lead to bigger outcome. “I think there are many ways to approach that and you have to see which audience you are targeting and what they’re more receptable to.” She’s the kind of leader who wants to see it in practice reaching the people. But more than that, she wants to send a message to all victims of Gender-Based Violence that everybody’s behind them and that they shouldn’t be afraid because their agenda is our agenda.
But Assambador Bita Rasoulian had her own share of struggles, being in the diplomatic field where it is male dominated and a perception that men have all the characteristics to lead and women should simply follow is already a face of discrimination. “There’s always these moments where I’m confronted with and I think that it’s important to let women know what their worth, what their capable of and to trust them, give them your confidence and put your trust in them so that you’ll know that they can.”
Being empowered is important and it begins with a bit of self awareness. It starts very early, so whenever her 17 year old son keeps telling her 13 year old daughter to do this and that, she would immediately tell her daughter to make herself heard and stand up for her rights. It’s something that parents must invest in their kids because it makes their path in life so much easier when they become adults.
Although entering the diplomat service wasn’t one of the things she planned growing up but she still made her way becoming the woman she is now. In fact, she was one the youngest in her batch to enter the service. She also learned to love it as she explores different continents in the world. Her passion gives her the drive to do better in everything that she does. She expressed how they are open in the embassy in any kind of cooperation as long as she can see the sincerity and substance of the project.
Being assigned to Venezuela as part of her final trial period taught her a lot of things. She was a bit scared out there but she described it as a fabulous experience. As for coming to the Philippines, she feels lucky enough to be in the country of her fist choice. According to her it’s a country that has a welcoming society, she loves the open mentality of the people and the embracing nature that we have.
In my almost-two-hours encounter with Ambassador Bita Rasoulian, I can truly say that she is a woman of substance. She radiates a pure heart, she always has a vision and she’s very passionate about what she’s doing.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from her it has to be staying true to my values and more importantly to myself. I don’t have to change for anyone or go under anyone’s shadow just to please them. As what she have said “you always face this challenge as a woman and you have to learn to make yourself heard.” And that is something that I must work on each and every day of my life.