Ambassador Leticia Ramos Shahani served as the Philippine Ambassador to Australia from August 1978 to December 1980. She was the Philippines’ first woman Ambassador to Australia and among the first women to join the Philippine foreign service in 1962 blazing the path for future women diplomats in the Philippines and all over the world. She is widely considered a pioneer in the international women’s movement.
She previously served as the first woman Ambassador to Romania and non-resident Ambassador to Hungary and then-German Democratic Republic.
She was one of the highest-ranking Filipinos in the United Nations serving as UN Assistant Secretary General for Social and Humanitarian Affairs (1981-1986) and Secretary-General of the UN World Conference for the UN Decade of Women (1985) at a time when men dominated multilateral institutions. She also served as the Undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (1986-1987).
She prepared the first draft of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was eventually adopted by the UN in 1979. The Philippines signed CEDAW in 1980 and ratified it the following year, the first ASEAN country to do so.
Following her career as a Filipino diplomat, she entered into politics and served as Senator of the Philippines for two terms (1987-1998) and as the first female Senate President Pro-Tempore (1992-1996). She would continue to champion women’s rights in this capacity. She chaired committees on foreign relations, education, arts and culture, agriculture, food, women and family relations.
Senator Shahani would later hold several positions in Government between 2001 to 2004 including as Director of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), Presidential Adviser on Culture and head of the National Committee of Libraries and Information Services of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, and chairperson of the committee on culture of the UNESCO National Commission – Philippines. From 2008 to 2011, she was the Dean of the College of International, Humanitarian and Development Studies of Miriam College.
As Philippine Ambassador to Australia, she would oversee several high-level exchanges including the visits of then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser (1979), then Minister for Foreign Affairs Andrew Peacock (1980), then Minister for Foreign Affairs Tony Street (1980) to the Philippines. High-level officials from the Philippines also visited Australia including Minister of Justice Ricardo Puno (1980), then Chief Justice Enrique Fernando (1980), and Minister for Energy Geronimo Velasco (1980).
While there have been numerous exchanges, the first formal consultations between the two countries would take place in 1979 in Canberra and was convened again in 1980. The Joint Commission established under the Philippines-Australia Trade Agreement ratified in May 1979, convened for the first time on the same year in Manila. A major agreement signed was the Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention on Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income which came to effect in 1980.
Ambassador Shahani travelled extensively around Australia and was the first Philippine envoy to Australia to visit the Northern Territory. She advocated for the establishment of a chair in Philippine studies in a leading university in Australia. Under her watch, the Australian-Philippines Friendship Society was formally organized in December 1980 with the election of High Court Justice Lionel Murphy as the Society’s first President.
She is the recipient of several awards including the presidential award Gawad Mabini (1995), UN Population Award (1996), the Order of Teodor Vlademirescu, Class I by Romania (1978), the French Legion of Honor, Order of Chevalier (1992) and Order of Commander in 1996, as well as the Lazo de Dama de la Orden de Isabel la Catolica (1996).
She obtained her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and went on to pursue her master’s degree in Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. She finished her Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature at the University of Paris with the highest honors.
Senator Shahani hails from Lingayen, Pangasinan. She was the daughter of former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Narciso Ramos and sister of former President Fidel V. Ramos.
Senator Shahani married Ranjee Shahani, former Indian writer and professor with whom she has three children.
Senator Shahani passed away on 20 March 2017 and is survived by her three children Ranjit, Chanda and Lila.