Gender pioneer Laura Allsop aims to conquer Himalayas

For someone who was named a Gates fellow in 2015, Laura Allsop has not been idle in the time since. A prize of $200,000 bought her time to train in a girls’ health clinic in Nairobi, Kenya. But when she finally set off with the remaining two fellows last month, it was to the Himalayas.

The charity she works for, NINF (Net Awareness in Gender), will build clinics in the isolated far reaches of north-east India and Nepal, where genitalia examinations are common, a dangerous experience for a woman in her mid-40s – which can lead to infection or even killing by HIV. She was named a senior fellow by Bill and Melinda Gates in 2015 for her leadership in the sector.

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Allsop became involved after she watched a documentary about women and hygiene after visiting India in 2005. She was working as an executive at an Australian investment bank, researching and writing on public policy for their global coverage when a friend recommended she visit a remote village. She stayed for 10 days, learning about sanitary issues for herself as well as for women on her visit. “It had a profound impact on me,” she says. “After that, I found my passion in the cause.”

Her first international trip involved a brief visit to Nepal’s Wakhan Corridor (a 9,000-mile trek from the northernmost border of the country in China) in 2007. She was struck by the fact that in such a remote region, about 1,000 women were dying each year from cervical cancer. She then went to Bangladesh to see how people were using sanitation and clean water – areas to which more people are travelling because they have little choice, because it is a long, dangerous trip to spend a night without clean water.

In Nepal, she met charities which had begun building more clinics, but where they were operating in different places. She began to work on bringing together international groups in Nepal, and when she returned to Australia in 2010, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation added to her support. Since then, NINF has become a small network, focusing on Nepal and going from town to town collecting money, each first trying to get donors to dream up a suitable project.

Their particular focus on remote villages in India and Nepal is a reflection of their overall strategy: to educate girls and women. Allsop knows that every step towards keeping girls healthy and educated benefits entire communities. When she visited the NINF community in India last month, she saw how close the impact was: between the three of them, they had built 90 new clinics. “It is such a massive initiative,” she says. “I hope it spreads and is successful.”

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