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International Women’s Day: Meet Ascend’s female leaders — Improving the health of millions worldwide

8th March 2021

To celebrate International Women’s Day, the UK Aid-funded Accelerating the Sustainable Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (Ascend) programme is proud to highlight the strong female presence across its leadership. 

In fact, Ascend Lot 1 — delivering NTD care to 11 countries in East and Southern Africa as well as Asia — is challenging multiple gender norms not only around women in leadership, but also women in science and working women in Africa and Asia. 

Ascend’s women are enabling health equity in the countries they work in and are setting examples for women and girls worldwide. The issues they #Choosetochallenge will also enable a more inclusive world. 

Here’s what some of the team have to say about being a woman in this profession


“Our team is about 50:50 male to female, but in our headquarters, it is dominated by women!  The Ascend management team has women in most of the key roles and for half of the Regional Manager roles.  Meanwhile most of the men on Ascend have progressive attitudes to working with women and are keen to identify how best Ascend can address issues that particularly affect women – such as Female Genital Schistomiasis — or to ensure that women get equal access to treatment conditions such as trachoma trichiasis, which can cause loss of eyesight due to trachoma if left untreated.” 

“I’m the first generation in my family where women have worked at the same time as bringing up children.  I’m also lucky to have a supportive husband who shares domestic and childcare responsibilities – which was not the case for many in my mum’s generation, nor for many women in developing countries.  I think it’s really important that my daughter –AND my son – see their mum working.” 

Read Kate’s full interview here.


“Ascend is the most complex project I have ever worked on. It pretty much throws different challenges our way dailyBut we all work as a team to overcome these challenges to remain focused on the delivery.”

“However, one of the biggest challenges, no doubt for pretty much everyone, has been the pandemic and its impact on the programme as well as on me. As a working mum, managing such a complex project has been challenging. As many other working mums, it involved juggling work, home schooling and parenting whilst managing a demanding programme at the same time. 

Read Shodigul’s full interview here.


Any woman in a leadership position will often find themselves in male dominated environments and this can be challenging. As female leaders we know that we bring lots of skills to those leadership roles, but right now those can be under-recognised or under-valued. The kinds of qualities that women bring to these roles – emotional intelligence say – are really qualities that all leaders (male or female) should have. We deserve a seat at the table and for that to not be questioned.” 

“I remember doing an interview for The Economist while changing my daughter’s nappy! Mixing motherhood and work certainly can put us into amusing situations, but it’s nothing that we can’t handle and I love seeing other women being strong examples of being working women in our work.” 

Read Ellie’s full interview here.


“My team is predominantly male, but I am fortunate to work with men who see and treat female colleagues as equals. I love that I have the ability to fulfil my ambitions and contribute to international development, regardless of my personal decisions on motherhood. Being able to show girls everywhere that we are able to do it all!” 

“In my role, I #Choosetochallenge the difficult transition from being a young female professional to being an expert. As a woman I feel I need to prove myself more in order to have credibility in my role, but Ascend’s management team has supported this transition by giving me the space and spotlight in high level meetings with external stakeholders.” 

Read Ingrid’s full interview here.


“There is a particularity in Mozambique, in that the NTD program is run by a woman and it operates to the National Directorate of Public Health, which is run by a woman. The deputy director of this directorate is also a woman. I am country Lead and I manage a group of four men in the country team.” 

“I #ChoosetoChallenge the problem that in some areas of the country women do not have the power to decide when they or their children should go to the health unit. Currently, Ascend is supporting the country NTD program in developing a behaviour change communications strategy that will improve the knowledge of NTDs among infected people and the general public and increase health access for women as a result.” 

Read Gertrudes’ full interview here.


“I work in a balanced male/female environment, but I still feel gratified being a woman in this profession. NTDs affect females more than they do males, either directly or indirectly, and as a woman, talking to communities of women enhances their participation in program implementation, which in turn increases child and male involvement. This makes it easier to reach project targets and contributes to the sustainability of the program. 

Read Edridah’s full interview here.


My core team members are male, but they are wonderful to work with and I believe there is mutual respect and appreciation. There are no team challenges. My team at Ascend are highly experienced and supportive in every way, which has improved my professional and home environment.” 

“As a professional woman, I enjoy being independent and able to choose who to work with, as well as how to balance my personal life with my professional life to give me total control over my life. I am really grateful to have had this opportunity.” 

Read Tina’s full interview here.


“Ascend is a very demanding and high-profile programme and the role of country lead in Ascend is very challenging, but I choose to face the challenge. The South Sudan programme is among the largest portfolio of Ascend Lot 1. As a lead, you need to have a flexible mindsets and ability to admit failure.” 

“All of the Ascend team in South Sudan are male. Also, my counterparts in the ministry of health side are male. But they are wonderfully supporting me and the programme. They demonstrate respect and support and I believe we have a great team!” 

Read Aja’s full interview here.


“There are challenges that I face that my male colleagues would not necessarily face simply because I am a woman. I have to prove that I am capable and deserve to be in my place of work to those I may be meeting for the first time. In contrast, that respect is inherently earned by my male colleagues.” 

“I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have been treated like I am not in a leadership role. I mitigate this by introducing myself with my title as soon as I meet someone for the first time professionally. I have also learned throughout the years that speaking up is very important. I used to keep my mouth shut, even when I had an idea or I disagreed. Now, I will never let myself go unheard, and that confidence has been instrumental in building my credibility.” 

Read Tina’s full interview here.


The UKAid funded Ascend programme in Nepal (Lot 1) is managed by a consortium of Crown Agents, Oriole Global Health, ABT Associates and KIT Tropical Institute