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Five Questions With…Allison Burden

4 March 2021


This International Women's Day we hear from Allison Burden, Programme Director of CARE International and Honorary Advisor for THET, on why increasing opportunities for women’s leadership is so important, how this can be done in practice, and why we must #ChooseToChallenge ourselves and those around us to spark change and accelerate progress towards equality and inclusion.

1. As Programme Director of CARE International and Honorary Advisor for THET, why do you think increasing opportunities for women’s leadership is so important?

In this world, leaders decide about how power and resources will be used, about who can be at the table and who cannot. The experience of individuals is different based on many things – gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, to name a few. As long as leadership is not deliberately representative of and inclusive of the wonderful diversity in the world, leaders will not be able to make wise decisions that are responsive and relevant to the diversity of people. Just above 51% of the world’s population are women and yet women don’t make up 51% of leaders in most (or any) walks of life; whether politics or business, in places of worship or public service. Where women do lead and particularly where leadership is diverse and inclusive, there is evidence to suggest that the leadership is more effective. A recent example of this has been in the states that are led by women and their response to COVID 19. There are others.

2. What advice would you give to women who are currently aspiring leaders in health across the world?

Be courageous and kind; be bold and self-forgiving; recognise that you will have to wisely navigate a system that excludes you; understand that navigating that system is hard so work with others in solidarity. When you have success, use your power to change the system so that others want to and are able to follow you. The path you take is not easy, clear it for those who follow. Take time to rest and re-energise yourself so that you do not lose hope and can hold on to your principles.

3. Can you tell us about some of the women who have inspired you throughout your career?

There are many, many women and it is hard to choose one – Agnes, Elisa, Kassie, Claudine, Isadora, Sidonie, Hilary, Alison, Gail, Jo x2, Caroline and Sarah. There are also men who have inspired me because of their commitment to equality. Each one has a story. Rather than tell all their stories, let me explain why they have inspired me. These people are loving and kind, creative and inclusive, they are funny and joyful, they are available and supportive. The women have, often alone, brought up children and cared for the children of others. They are heroines who have transformed the lives of others both personally and professionally. They are unsung heroines. They are imperfect and they are trailblazers.

4. What does the 2021 International Women’s Day slogan, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?

It means hard work and courage. Much of the story of change in the world is one of people challenging the status quo. Gender equality is about challenging deeply rooted norms. We can do this in so many ways – large and small. We can do it every day. It might be deciding to speak when we have felt confident to; it might be taking a place at the table when before we might have taken a corner. It might also be challenging the behaviour of others and intervening to stop something bad happening such as sexist actions or comments.  It might also be by signing a petition or marching in the streets or writing to local and national political leaders to call for change. It might be in the way we bring up our children to think differently and spark change. It might be in the way we lead and manage professionally.

When we choose to challenge the status quo; we are contributing to change. I would encourage us to do this when we can, when it is safe to do so and for positive change that makes the world more equal and inclusive. Because the status quo is unequal and exclusive.

5. In your view, what more needs to be done to accelerate progress towards a gender-equal world?

Three things: we need to be aware of and accepting that the world is not gender equal and, forgive me for saying this, particularly men need to be aware and accepting – because the world is set up in ways that make it possible for them not to notice. Second, we need to be engaged to understand and learn more about this. It means being curious and listening, and once again, I encourage all people but particularly the privileged to do this. Take time to deliberately listen to women and girls to understand THEIR experience. Third, act to change the world. Based on your awareness and your increased understanding of the experience of others, start by changing yourself, change what you can in the systems around you and where you don’t have power, challenge those that do, to change.

This post was written by:

Allison Burden - Programme Director, CARE International


  • Elisa
    16 Mar 2021 11:23
    The work isn’t easy but the idea is so simple - thank you Allison for always holding up human dignity, joy and grace as the compass.
  • Dorothy
    11 Mar 2021 17:22
    Powerful - This is the re-fuel that we need to continue supporting this journey. #IChooseToChallenge. Bravo Allison!
  • Marceline Tchamani
    11 Mar 2021 11:38
    Allison ton engagement pour le genre et l'injustice sociale est pour nous une source de motivation
  • Juan Echanove
    11 Mar 2021 09:08
    Inspired and thrilled by Allison . This is are wonderful responses!!!
  • Elizabeth McLaughlin
    10 Mar 2021 21:08
    Thank you Allison for being you. You inspire us all.
  • Speaking for many
    10 Mar 2021 17:08
    Allison is an inspiration, dropping compassionate wisdom on the regular, as evidenced above. Maintaining, and commanding, love and respect in the midst of so much hate and sexist dismissiveness cannot possibly be easy, but she's been doing it for decades. Thank you for everything, Allison.
  • Jon M
    10 Mar 2021 16:09
    Wonderful advice, Allison. Thank you
  • Julia A
    10 Mar 2021 12:26
    Well said Al. Yes, yes and YES!
  • Stav
    10 Mar 2021 10:22
    You’re a star 🌟 Allison and an inspiration. Love from Sydney 💜

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