Amy Christianson is the Public Diplomacy Chief at the Consulate General of the United States of America in Karachi since September 2020. Amy joined the U.S. State Department in 2002. Throughout her career she has held positions at the U.S. State Department headquarters in Washington D.C. Amy was recently serving as the Global Alumni Outreach Coordinator with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S State Department. Prior to coming to Pakistan, she served in four Embassies including Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, and South Africa. Before joining the Foreign Service, Amy was the Deputy Executive Director of a Native American association dedicated to tribal economic development located in Washington, D.C. In an exclusive interview with You! Amy shares her thoughts on women empowerment and 16 days of activism…
You! What made you follow a career in public diplomacy?
Amy Christianson: I enjoy getting to know people and experiencing new cultures: my career in public diplomacy combines those two passions and gives me the opportunity to work closely with people while building bridges of understanding between our countries.
You! How did you find the work environment in different countries?
AC: As diplomats, it is extremely important that we have a good sense of differing work environments from country to country. We must understand and respect their customs and norms so we can create a positive work experience. For instance, as Americans, we tend to get right down to business. However, in many countries in which I’ve served, it is extremely important to take the time to build a relationship before diving into business discussions. It’s a different style of handling meetings and if not careful, we can unintentionally come across as abrupt or rude which can shut down negotiations. Something as simple as greeting people upon arriving at the office, a custom that many times gets overlooked in the hurried U.S. workplace environment, can make all the difference.
You! What are your current areas of focus?
AC: I oversee the Consulate’s public affairs, educational and cultural exchanges, and social and traditional media. I get to develop ties with media professionals, government officials, educators and university leadership, nongovernmental organisations, students, and so many more.
You! What’s the most challenging part of your job?
AC: The most challenging part of my job is also the most rewarding. Our time in different countries is short – anywhere from one to three years – and it is hard to say good-bye to people who have become an important part of your life. On the flip side, it’s always a challenge to quickly pick up the nuances of different cultures and the areas in which we can partner and work together.
You! What are some of the perks of working for the U.S. State Department?
AC: The perks of working for the U.S. State Department is getting to know a diverse group of people and experiencing new cultures.
You! What are your views on women empowerment?
AC: When you empower women, you change the future. When women do better, countries do better. When women are economically empowered, they invest in their families and communities, which produces a multiplier effect that spurs economic growth and stability.
This is a special year for the United States. We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in federal elections. I can’t help but think about those strong women who went before me, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton who dedicated her life to securing the vote for women.
You! What is the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Based-Violence (GBV)’?
AC: Every year, on November 25, the U.S. commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and observes the next 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, which ends with Human Rights Day on December 10.
The 16 Days of Activism campaign gives us all an opportunity to stand in solidarity with women and girls around the world who have suffered violence. It gives us an opportunity to look at our policies, prejudices, and priorities and take action to address gender-based violence in all parts of our society.
You! What are the repercussions of gender-based violence?
AC: Women and girls suffer disproportionally from gender-based violence because of the vulnerable position so many societies put us in. GBV prevents women and girls, in particular, from getting an education, earning an income, participating in political processes, and ultimately fully contributing to their societies. How can a woman contribute fully when she is consistently having to battle against threats to her safety? It happens in Pakistan...it happens in the United States...it happens everywhere.
You! What key issues is the U.S. Consulate Karachi addressing during the 16 Days campaign?
AC: The U.S. Consulate in Karachi has organised a wide range of programmes spread across 16 days starting from the 25 November through December 10. We have started a comprehensive campaign to raise awareness about online harassment and digital safety of women in Pakistan as women often start censoring themselves online or leave the online platform altogether due to online violence.
Through this campaign, we have been able to highlight all too common themes relating to online bullying, trolling, cyber stalking, defamation and hate speech, public shaming, and identity theft and hacking. In collaboration with the Digital Rights Foundation, we have been able to highlight the various aspects of online harassment through U.S. Consulate Karachi’s social media pages.
Recently, we organised a panel discussion on the GBV 2020 theme ‘Orange the World, Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’ at the Lincoln Corner located in Sindh’s Larkana town. In addition, we did a workshop on reporting on GBV in media with Isadora Varejao at our five Lincoln Corners in Sindh province. On November 27th, we had a panel discussion on ‘Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future’ at Lincoln Corners.
You! What other programmes are undertaking in Sindh and Balochistan to promote gender equality and women empowerment?
AC: The U.S. Consulate Karachi places great significance on promoting women’s and girls’ rights, creating education, economic and growth opportunities through programmes funded by the United States. We also have a number of women-focused leadership programmes and provide women leaders, journalists, bloggers, activists, and women from a cross-section of professional backgrounds to participate in the U.S. government-funded cultural and educational exchanges.
To highlight one recent significant programme, the U.S. Consulate Karachi organised a virtual hackathon for female programmers in partnership with Asia Foundation and the National Incubation Center (NIC). Aptly named ‘Built by Her’, the hackathon enabled Pakistani women and girls to build sustainable solutions to Pakistan’s development. The top two teams will be receiving USD 5000 seed money to further develop their ideas.
One of the U.S. Consulate Karachi grants, ‘Gender Equality Reporting’, is designed to develop capacity of journalists and students in Sindh and Balochistan. The in-depth training will help them understand and report on gender-based violence issues surrounding forced marriages, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, rape and child molestation. The latest session trained journalists from Ziarat, Pishin and Gwadar in Balochistan.
You! Beyond the 16 days, how does the U.S. help empower women in Sindh and Balochistan provinces?
AC: Over the last several years, the U.S. Government has partnered with Pakistani organisations to provide health services to nearly 10 million women and children; reached more than 780,000 girls through reading programmes; awarded more than 6,600 scholarships for young women to attend Pakistani institutions of higher education; trained more than 15,000 female educators; and directly created more than 11,000 full-time jobs for women since 2012.
In Karachi, the U.S. has donated more than a million dollars’ worth of vehicles and equipment to three women police stations in Karachi East, West, and South Zones. These police stations provide a safe place for women to go to report crimes and are staffed by female police officers willing and able to give support.
The U.S. so far has sent a total of 50 police women from Pakistan, including 21 from Sindh, to participate in international training and conferences where they learn about best practices from around the world in providing better access to justice. We give support, both in training and materials, to places like the Hyderabad Women Protection Cell. This location provides a safe place for women to go and report crimes and get the assistance they need.
Through small grants to local NGOs, we provide women with direct legal aid assistance in Sindh. In addition, we signed an agreement with UN Women to implement a three-year, $3.5 million project that helped build the capacity of law enforcement in Sindh and Balochistan, to prevent and respond to violence against women.
USAID works with 409 government schools in Sindh and has already built 106 schools. Over 60 per cent of these schools are mixed or girls’ schools, which provide access to almost 42,000 girls. Our work in the Sindh Reading Program also contributes to the quality of education in formal schools. More than 120,000 girls have improved their reading skills in public schools. The programme has provided access to education to 4,127 ‘out of school girls’.
You! What has been your favourite thing about living and working in Pakistan?
AC: I recently had the opportunity to accompany the U.S. Charge d’affaires in a wreath laying ceremony to pay solemn respects at the tomb of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It was absolutely moving, I was honoured to be a part of the ceremony, and to have the opportunity to reflect on the powerful vision of Muhammad Jinnah.
I have been in Pakistan for only a few months and already I have experienced a positive workplace environment. Although the majority of my interactions with my Pakistani colleagues are virtual due to the precautions the U.S. Mission is taking to stem the spread of Covid-19, I can still feel their kindness.
I love the Pakistani spices and dishes. I haven’t picked a favourite yet because I have so much more to try – although I will say that beef biryani and chicken karahi are currently at the top of the list.
You! What inspires you the most about Pakistani women?
AC: Pakistani women are enormously talented, and enterprising with an ability to create out of box solutions. With support, education, and growth opportunities they have the potential to transform Pakistan and can play an equal role in the progress of the country.
I was inspired by a conversation with a woman who is breaking barriers in a male-dominated career in Balochistan. I also met a woman who is a leader in the tech sector. She talked about how women make up only 15 per cent of the technology sector, despite it being the fastest growing sector in Pakistan. She also told me that the majority of people working for her in her tech business are women. She hired them because of their qualifications, not their gender. Through this business-savvy move, she is elevating the status of women in not only Pakistan’s tech industry but in business as a whole.
You! What does a typical day look like for you?
AC: I arrive at work early and review my emails, press and social media reports to ensure that I understand what news items are trending in the country. I then meet with the senior leadership of the consulate as well as the leadership in the Public Affairs Section to brief on current activities and chart out the day or week ahead. I participate in online meetings with Pakistani contacts to discuss grants, initiatives, and potential partnerships. My evenings are many times rounded out with online programmes such as giving opening remarks for a speaker programme in collaboration with IBA featuring a U.S. entrepreneurship expert talking about entrepreneurial leadership in Covid-19 with up-and-coming businesspeople.
You! How do you balance personal and professional life?
AC: Work-life balance can be a challenge for any woman or man. Sometimes the expectations of women are even greater due to stereotypical gender roles. However, I’ve been blessed with a spouse who is very supportive and, like me, doesn’t believe that responsibilities reside within gender boxes. The U.S. State Department tries very hard to support families and my three children joined me in all of the countries in which I served. My husband is in Pakistan with me, however, it’s the first time our children haven’t accompanied us. Two of my children are in university back in the United States and the oldest has already graduated and is pursuing a career in geology. I am really looking forward to my upcoming short vacation to the U.S. for the holidays as I will be spending it with them!
You! How do you unwind?
AC: I am an avid book reader and would welcome any good suggestions for Pakistani authors. I am lucky to be able to get books online but I have to admit, that nothing can really replace the satisfying feeling of holding a book in your hands.
You! Where do you see yourself in next 5 years?
AC: I will be in Karachi for the next two years. It will give me an opportunity to get to know the people and the place and ensure that the initiatives I oversee will truly make a positive impact on U.S.-Pakistan relations and the people of Pakistan. After that, I am not sure where I will work – it will be determined by what is available when I transfer and the needs of the U.S. State Department combined with my own personal and professional needs.