A career focused on gender equity
Pascale Allotey’s early work in anthropology and gender provided critical evidence that contributed to women receiving protective bednets. Today she’s teaching policy-makers and researchers to work together on implementation research.
“Identity is incredibly fluid,” says Dr Pascale Allotey. She should know – born in Morocco to Ghanaian parents, this small woman with big aspirations has lived across the world – in London, Liberia, Ghana, Australia and Malaysia.
Her determination only grew stronger as a teenager in Ghana, where her father was detained during a political transition. “Having to hide under the bed as soldiers took my dad is something that will never leave me,” she recalls. “There were gun shots on a regular basis in our neighborhood, and some of my friends’ Dads were killed during this time.”
This early start immersed in national politics opened her eyes to disparities and the need to strengthen communities. She started work as a community-based public health nurse and midwife. “I was called ‘Baby Sister’ because I am a small person, but I found that the nurse’s uniform was a symbol of authority. Even though I didn’t feel I had this credibility, the uniform positively affected the way I worked.”
She completed a Masters degree and PhD in Public Health at the University of Western Australia, analyzing the unique aspects of tropical diseases during pregnancy. She spent a year in northern Ghana in 1992 gathering epidemiological and anthropological data to investigate why women did not go to antenatal clinics and their use of alternative traditional practices, while she ran one of these antenatal clinics for the ministry of health. She also spent time with the local soothsayers and traditional healers investigating their practices.
There she saw many disparities between men and women. At the time, TDR was running an important trial investigating the impact of bednets to reduce malaria cases, and she was seeing that the nets were often going to men, and not the women and their children who were the most vulnerable to the infected mosquitoes. Her research contributed to identifying these barriers and provided vital documentation that others used to reduce the inequities.
A positive start with TDR committees
In 1997, Pascale was invited by Pamela Harrigan at TDR to its first gender task force meeting. Pascale had a new baby, and she was told to bring her son so she could attend, where arrangements were made for her to breast feed when needed. “It was the friendliest, friendliest thing ever,” she says with a smile, “and was empowering both as a professional researcher and a young mother.” She remained on that task force for 3 years, examining the impact of gender on 10 different diseases TDR supported at that time. This work led to TDR reports on social and gender issues in infectious diseases of poverty (see links on right).
Pascale has also worked on female genital mutilation in Ghana and Australia, the health of refugees and migrants, and rebuilding health systems in post-conflict settings. She chairs the Gender and Rights Advisory Panel of HRP, the WHO-based Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction. This group has looked at the role of human rights in health systems, examining the social determinants that marginalize populations.
Pascale was invited back to TDR in 2006 to become a member of its Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), where she provided advice and oversight for 6 years. Since 2016, she has been a member of the Intervention and Implementation Research Scientific Working Group.
Pascale has maintained her ties with the University of Ghana, running workshops for academic staff on supervision of higher degree research. In 2009, she moved to Malaysia with her husband and research partner, Daniel Reidpath, to work at Monash University.
Working globally from Malaysia
Dr Allotey was recently appointed the Director of the United Nations University - International Institute for Global Health, hosted by the Malaysian Government, where she is exploring amongst other things, the critical impact of gender on enabling health outcomes across the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the empowerment of communities to engage more actively in health and health systems. Pascale has lived in Malaysia for 9 years, longer than any other place in her lifetime. She is bringing her many experiences and identities to bear to build opportunities both in this country and globally.
One of her areas of work has been developing the massive open online course (MOOC) on implementation research with TDR. She designed a workshop to bring together policy-makers, researchers and healthcare providers to learn about this type of research, adapting the global online curriculum to the Malaysia’s specific healthcare needs. See more on this.
Dr Nik Jasmin Binti Nik Mahir, the Director of the Malaysia Public Health Development Division, says, “Pascale has been trying to bridge the gap between the ministry of health and the university researchers, and she’s done quite well.”
The identity of this world traveler may have felt fluid to Pascale, but she has used that for the benefit of vulnerable communities, and particularly women. Her early exposure to disadvantaged groups led to important research and a commitment to teaching others. Her hope is that the importance of addressing gender disparities is now an accepted concept, and that further research will continue to break down those barriers.
To contact Pascale Allotey, email: email@example.com