Women in Diplomacy

Anita de Vogel: Charming and graceful

By Reaven D’Souza
Managing Editor

Anita de Vogel comes across as a friendly, easily approachable woman who makes a lasting impression with her infectious smile and easy-going attitude.

Her affable and pleasing nature has endeared her to all and ensured she receives a warm welcome wherever she goes.

Anita has had a vast and immensely fulfilling career in diplomacy, having started out as a foreign ministry employee before moving on to become a diplomat’s wife, a working mother, a refugee worker and a political advisor. She has excelled in every role with immeasurable grace and aplomb.

In her almost 5 years in Kuwait, Anita has been active in diplomatic circles and reached out to the people of Kuwait, building friendships and breaking barriers with her always-welcome attitude.

Speaking to The Times Kuwait in an exclusive and candid interview, Anita advises: “Always approach people with an open mind without any preconceived notions; do not judge people in advance, and you will be surprised at the results.” This mantra of hers, which has withstood the test of time, has evolved from decades of experience interacting with people from various parts of the world.

Anita has been married for 35 years to Frans Potuyt, the present Ambassador of the Netherlands to Kuwait, and together they have four children and one grandchild, whom she refers to as the strengths in her life.

“Being married to a diplomat, it is difficult to lead an independent life and career,” she says, but despite this, Anita has managed to have a career and carve a niche for herself. In various postings of her husband, Anita has taken up jobs to help and contribute to the country she was in.

Reminiscing about her role in establishing a refugee project for UNHCR in Iran, she said it was one of the most challenging jobs she had undertaken, as it helped change lives of the unprotected and vulnerable people there.

Before her husband’s posting to Kuwait, Anita had taken time off to be with her children during their higher studies in the Netherlands. During this time she worked as an advisor for a Dutch political party. Once their studies were completed, she was free to join her husband in Kuwait and explore yet another country.

“Kuwait is not a place where one can find a tourist guide,” she says with a smile, adding that the people are simply amazing with their hospitality and warmth. “Kuwait can really surprise you, as on the outside it is quite different from the inside,” she points out, saying that it is a best kept secret where friendship and relationships flourish.

Anita is the current president of the International Women’s Group (IWG), a well known and respected grouping of local women and women diplomats and spouses of diplomats. The group has been active for around 31 years and Anita’s role at the helm has been a natural progression of her stint in Kuwait.

“IWG plays an important role in society by helping members to connect with the local populace and also experience local customs and traditions. The group holds monthly meetings and interactions that expose members from more than 80 nationalities to the cultures and traditions of each other.”

Sheikha Hanoof Al-Sabah, the wife of the minister of foreign affairs is the honorary patron and this gives the group increased leverage in connecting with people.

The group welcomes newcomers with open arms and gives them first-hand knowledge of the country, as well as holds excursions and shares experiences with each other. “This really helps people settle in faster and raises their comfort level in an unknown country early on,” she pointed out.

Though not working in diplomacy, Anita has been a great support to her husband. “We are also the eyes and ears of our husband and play a very supportive role in both engagement and influence,” she points out.

On her opinion of finding a balance in life she says, flexibility is the key and discussing all decisions jointly with your partner helps in keeping the balance.

Regarding Kuwaiti women, Anita says that the Dutch can learn a thing or two from their Kuwait counterparts who excel in hospitality. “Kuwaiti women are very well educated, self aware, and to an extent ambitious, I have very high hopes that these women who know what is going on in the world will give Kuwait a bright future.

Kuwait was the first posting that Anita thought she would not be working and have free time on her hand, but on the contrary she says “it has been intense and rewarding, I am enjoying every bit.”

An extrovert who loves travelling, Anita’s easy-going Dutch mannerisms help in her interactions and connections, and makes her a natural diplomat with her unwitting charm and smile

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