WE live in a fortunate time where we are frequently and increasingly treated to stories of brave, empowered women. Women today make headlines for their strong convictions and their adamant denial of the stereotype that women are weak and submissive to societal norms. This was illustrated in a recent Huffington Post article which compiled 68 powerful photos of women at protest actions. Women in the World, a conference associated with the New York Times, published an article on six women who chose to fight to settle conflicts in war-torn countries.
It is apparent that women today no longer stay quiet when they are backed into a corner or given limited choices. But what we must remember is that we need not look further than the Philippines to be assured that women are as important as any person in an equation. The late senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Helena Benitez, career diplomat Ambassador Laura Quiambao-del Rosario, and economist Winnie Monsod are just some of the Filipino women whose accomplishments are worth emulating.
Our work at the ISA often makes me a witness to the stellar examples of women who are making a difference in government. In an arena which, like many others, was initially “made for men,” it is refreshing to meet Filipino women leaders who can hold their own when it comes to influencing both local and national policy. There are many lessons we can learn from their experiences in both the public and private sectors.
“Women know about women,” Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Corporate Planning Office Director Mary Jean Pacheco says of the importance of recognizing women’s voices in government. “Faced with a rapidly changing environment, we see the evolution of megatrends referring to industrial and technological transformation that confront women. We need women who really understand women’s issues to advocate for them and to take action.”
Dr. Maria Linda Buhat, Assistant Director for Nursing Services at the Philippine Heart Center, also weighs in: “Women have a different point of view and perspective of situations, issues and concerns. It is important to assert these to make a balance, and bring about better decision-making.”
Despite having a relatively high gender index—the Philippines ranked 7th worldwide in the2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum—there is still work to do in reducing inequality. Former Marikina City Mayor and current Galing Pook Foundation Chair Marides Fernando points out that “government institutions have been mandated by law to provide budgets for gender and development to allow more women to be mainstreamed in our economic life. They have the opportunity to show that women can contribute equally to our society.”
Pacheco says that at the DTI, they are fortunate to have no issue with women’s participation since females outnumber males with a ratio of 58:42. “Women at the DTI play a significant role in policy formulation, program development and implementation in the areas of trade and industry policy, export and investment promotion, development and growth of micro and SMEs, and consumer protection and advocacy, and in good governance.”
Former San Fernando La Union Mayor Mary Jane Ortega suggests that the “government can enhance women’s participation through the formation of Rural Improvement Clubs (RIC), Barangay Nutrition Scholars (BNS), Barangay Health Workers (BHW), and BSPO—where there are more women involved and are closest to the people in the community.” She also cites the importance of access to education, for education can be a source of empowerment.
Inspiring change seems daunting, but when asked for advice for aspiring Filipino women leaders, Dr. Juliet Balderas, head of the Philippine Heart Center Office for Strategy Management, says that “one should learn as much as she can, and never lose herself in the changes.”
“I would advise women to excel in any endeavor they decide to undertake,” says Fernando. Reinforcing the importance of choice, Ortega says women “should develop the character of being committed to whatever they choose to do, whether it is a commitment to marriage, to the care of their children, or to their profession.” And Dr. Buhat advises women to “continue to be assertive to make a difference. Women have the capability and the potential to manage situations with a heart and by values.”
It is no easy feat to improve the systems and institutions of a country, and it is unfortunately magnified when one factors in gender disparity and discrimination and prejudice. Nevertheless, there is something deeply admirable about the women I have read about, and the women I have met in this line of work who are not only government leaders but governance exemplars as well. The Philippines is not easy to love and the environment is a challenging one to tackle, and yet they still choose to do what they do. Maybe we should, too.
Kirsten Ramos is a Development Communication graduate of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, and is currently a program coordinator for communication in the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA). To learn more about her work with the Institute, visit www.isacenter.org.
Special thanks to the following for providing their insights: ISA Trustees Mary Jane Ortega and Marides Fernando; Philippine Heart Center Office for Strategy Management Head Dr. Juliet Balderas and Nursing Services Assistant Director Dr. Maria Linda Buhat; and Department of Trade and Industry Corporate Planning Office Director Mary Jean Pacheco.