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The complete group Martha Tenzer with one of the supervisors. © FPS Foreign affairs
A new class of diplomatic trainees recently began their training. For the first time, there are more women than men, leading the group to choose the name Martha Tenzer, after one of the pioneers of Belgian women in diplomacy.
As is customary, our 51 new diplomat trainees have chosen a name for their class of 2023-2025: Martha Tenzer, Belgian resistance fighter and diplomat (1920-2001).
Martha Tenzer was born in Antwerp in 1920. As a student and then graduate in Romance philology, Martha Tenzer was active simultaneously in Antwerp's resistance networks. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. She survived her imprisonment in Ravensbrück concentration camp, not least because she was not considered a Jew but a political prisoner.
After several months spent convalescing in a Swedish medical centre - she weighed just 30 kg and suffered from several illnesses at the time of her release - Martha Tenzer passed the Belgian diplomatic examination in 1947. She was then sent to Paris, where she worked on the creation of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), the forerunner of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); she then worked in London and New York. Her career path was particularly unusual and commendable as Belgian diplomacy at the time forbade expatriate women - posted abroad - from marrying. This forced her to become a single mother, a rare occurrence in those days. Her son, Nicolas Tenzer, was born while she was stationed in New York.
Martha Tenzer then returned to Paris, where she ended her career as an international civil servant with the OECD. Recognised for her career as a resistance fighter and diplomat, she was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre with palms, and made a Commander in the Order of Leopold II in 1977. She retired in 1985 and died in Levallois-Perret (France) on 31 August 2001.
A commitment to women's diplomacy
The diplomatic trainees decided to honour Martha Tenzer in memory of a resistance fighter against Nazi barbarism who went on to create a stable and democratic international order. Her role as a female pioneer in what was then a very male-dominated diplomatic service shows just how successful she was. For the first time, the new class includes more women (26) than men (25). This testifies to the efforts of the FPS Foreign Affairs to promote gender equality. By making this choice, the trainee diplomats are demonstrating their commitment to multilateralism and women's diplomacy, both of which Belgium strongly supports.