Women's Issues Are Central To Every Global Issue: US Diplomat Elizabeth Allen

In an exclusive interview with SheThePeople, US Under Secretary Elizabeth Allen spoke about the prioritisation of women and girls in international policy and shed light on her personal experiences as a woman in leadership.

Tanya Savkoor
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Naisargi Shah In Conversation With Elizabeth Allen

From gender equality to healthcare rights and beyond, the promotion of women's rights across the world has become a cornerstone of international policy efforts in recent times. In an exclusive interview with SheThePeople, Elizabeth Allen, the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, shared her insights on the diplomatic and cultural issues that must be tackled on priority in the global governance agenda. She touched upon bridging the gap in women's participation in the workforce, the gap in healthcare, and the need for effective and ethical communication on women's issues. 


Allen passionately discussed the role of global leaders, collaborative efforts, and allies in promoting gender equality. She also talked about her role as a woman in leadership, giving an insight into how her personal experiences leveraged her advocacy for women's rights.

The Continued Fight For Women's Rights

"Women's and girls' issues are central to every other issue in the world," Elizabeth Allen said as she described how she delved into diplomacy. "When I was seeking out an internship as a senior in college, I chose to apply to the Office of International Women's Issues, because I knew that you can't hope to have more economic prosperity, stability and peace, or better humanitarian outcomes if you are not paying attention to women and girls all over the world."

Allen noted how the collaboration between global forces has been effective in bringing attention to women's issues in recent times. "Over the last few decades of my career, it has been gratifying to see the recognition that women and girls policy should be central to an international affairs agenda. For example, last year at the G20, the United States and India worked together to push countries to advocate for more inclusive women and girls policies. And that is great! We need to be breaking down barriers and creating economic incentives as a matter of policy," she stated.


She also spoke about her role and priorities as a diplomat in challenging women's issues. "My core belief is that the future of the world depends just as much on people-to-people relationships as government-to-government relationships. So a lot of what I'm prioritising is investing in the leaders of tomorrow and we're doing that through exchange programmes and academic opportunities as a matter of convening the right women and men of all ages around the table," she said.

Empowerment Through Accessible Healthcare

Be it reproductive rights or menstrual hygiene, women's healthcare has been an enormous concern around the world, pressing for urgent attention. Women's healthcare has been neglected and underfunded, further widening the gender gap and perpetuating disparities worldwide. Allen touched upon the often overlooked concerns of women's healthcare, including maternity care, childcare, and mental health. 

"We talk a lot about care policy but we also have to view healthcare as taking care of the whole person. I have been encouraged by the fact that the global healthcare conversation has increasingly incorporated issues of mental, emotional, and social well-being. We should be thinking about issues like postpartum depression or loneliness. These intangible, unseen parts of a person's health are as critical as anything to tackle."


Allen talked about the need for policymakers to redefine how women's health is thought about, researched, and incentivised. She noted, "There has been so much focus on women's economic empowerment that we need to make sure women's healthcare is keeping up with that conversation. Policy solutions to advance women's health are increasingly being done but women's healthcare all over the world can be culturally taboo or sensitive, and those things are important to work through with one's own community or medical providers."

She added, "We (policymakers) have to be working with the medical community and philanthropists to discuss how we support the advances in women's health, how we tackle the medical and pharmaceutical disparities, and how we believe in women. Women are often denied access to healthcare because no one believes what they are going through, and there has to be an increase in that kind of conversation globally."

Impact Of Personal Leadership Experiences 

Elizabeth Allen candidly shared how her personal experiences as a woman in diplomacy have shaped her outlook on the issues. While she says that things have changed since she first started, she recounted her early days of overcoming stigma and emotional challenges, noting how several women across the world still feel that way.

"I have been lucky when I worked for President Obama and now President Biden, even now Secretary Blinken, the environment has been quite inclusive and I'm very grateful. That does not mean that it hasn't been difficult to try to assert my voice. I've had to overcome impostor syndrome like so many women do. What I also have to deal with, especially as a young woman, is overcoming what other people think of me even when I know, I could do it!" Allen narrated.

She described how she broke out of that maze and gained more confidence in herself. "I think when we're young, there's a pressure or an expectation that we have to know everything and that we have to be right all the time. In reality, no one's right every time. Not even Presidents! So, letting go of some of our self-imposed pressure can be really powerful. When you're sitting at a table with people of different backgrounds and different expertise, you can feel confident in your expertise, knowing that you know something different from everyone else. That's just some of the personal growth that I went through in this job."

Allen also described how she uses her experience to impact other women and reel them into the realm of leadership. She expressed, "As a leader, I take a lot of responsibility in my role to show other women that they can reach these jobs. I feel it is my responsibility to bring women along with me and talk about my job and experiences-- the good experiences and the tough experiences. Not only women but even the men allies have to champion equal rights for women in the workplace. There are all kinds of structural, policy and process ways to help increase chances for women but some of it is just about giving visibility to what their own paths could be."

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