Keynote Address at the Toronto Global Forum
Fairmont Royal York, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thank you very much. 

Michael Thompson, the Deputy Mayor of the City of Toronto; Gil Rémillard, Founding Chairman; Nicholas Rémillard, President and Chief Executive Officer; Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada; Kimberly Reed, Chairman and President, Export-Import Bank of the United States; [Tipu] Munshi, Minister of Commerce of Bangladesh; other distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen: Good morning to all of you!

In July of 2018, The Economist published a very intriguing article. The headline read, and I quote: “Generation XX: January 2069. If 50% of the world’s CEOs are women”.蜉 It painted what the world would be like if it reached this milestone and what had to happen to get there. 
Today, world leaders and captains of industry in all the major parts of the world gather together in this prestigious event, providing us all a chance to make that scenario happen. Using that timeline, we still have 50 years to destroy all gender stereotypes and biases, and promote gender inclusion by 2069. 

Since the #MeToo Movement, and due to the watchfulness of the “woke” generation, so many things have already happened to generate awareness of overt biases and outright abuses committed against women. But we need to do more and shine a spotlight, especially on the more subtle acts of discrimination, because they are more insidious. If we commit to this goal today, we have a fighting chance.

This is not an easy advocacy. We go against deep-seated cultural and societal biases, and now, studies have found that even artificial intelligence has serious pro-male biases.蜉  But we need to commit to it because gender inclusion is not just about advancing women’s rights and empowering half of the world. Gender inclusion is, at its very core, about sustaining the whole world. When women survive, and find their path to a truly great life, the world thrives. And the ultimate expression of that is how economies are strengthened when women are empowered. 

Figures from Mckinsey and Company show that advancing women’s equality in the countries in Asia Pacific could add 4.5 trillion dollars to its collective annual gross domestic product by 2025. This is a 12-percent increase over the business-as-usual trajectory蜉. This is a clear sign that pursuing the goal of gender equality can unleash the economic potential of any country and reinforce the world economy.

The world has a wealth of literature on gender inclusion, but in recent years, we have learned two things. Number one, collaboration may sound like an empty, unexciting buzzword, but it is critical to this movement. 

Women can’t do this alone, and government regulation and laws are not enough to change behavior. There is so much that the private sector can do, but without government oversight, incentives, and penalties, how do you create a uniformity in approach in all cross-sections of the corporate world? Tech can be a great tool, but we have seen from the world’s experience with fake news and disinformation how it can be manipulated. The media is a huge ally in spreading awareness, but unless these messages are brought to the ground level, we will not see women accounting for 50 percent of the world’s CEOs by 2069. Each of these will bring us a bit closer to global gender inclusion, but will these all work together? That is when we will see real change, fast. For women to be strong enough to hold up half of the sky, the rest of the world has to be committed enough to hold up the other half.

Number two: the key to this movement is no longer just the women. Many women are already speaking up and fighting for their rights, benefiting from generations of hard work among those who are breaking glass ceilings in this field. But we see more gender inclusion in the world when men, too, are involved in our cause.

But first, let me tell you about how women from all walks of life, at least in our part of the world, are now empowered in speaking up about the abuse that they have gone through and how to heal from them. 

My office, the Office of the Vice President in the Philippines, is very much different from its counterparts in many parts of the world. We are limited not only by our mandate as stated in the Philippine Constitution, which is succession, but more so by our resources. Nevertheless, we were determined not to just sit idly by, performing ceremonial functions, because my term of six years is too long to do nothing significant or relevant. So we conceptualized Angat Buhay, an anti-poverty program that would allow us to reach communities most in need, with the help of development organizations and private partners.

Under Angat Buhay, we recently held a training for women entrepreneurs in one of our provinces called Bohol, more than 900 kilometers to the south of our capital city of Manila. Women empowerment is one of the key advocacy areas that our office has chosen since the very first day that we assumed office, precisely because as a practicing human rights lawyer prior to my involvement in politics, what I learned in the field is that when you empower women, you strengthen whole families and many generations. 

There, I met Perla Bacuna, who was a victim of domestic abuse. She told us that she was beaten every day and she endured it all for 25 long years. She lost all her means of livelihood, but that’s not even the worst part of her story. She was stripped of her self-worth and self-esteem. 

One day, she decided she had enough. She left. She had nothing when she turned her back on her husband, but nine children to feed. Perhaps as a fitting allegory of her life story, Perla built a new business by picking up from the seashore “capiz shells”, which are nearly flat windowpane oyster shells thrown away by the locals because no one thought they had value. Perla transformed these shells into beautiful wind chimes and other crafts, and successfully raised all her nine children from her business earnings. Now, she is well-known not just for her business success, but more so because she mentors other women entrepreneurs who have also been abused or marginalized.

This is proof that real empowerment comes from economic empowerment. Whether you are talking about corporate boardrooms or politics, tech or traditional industries, global companies or small entrepreneurs like Perla, women are stronger when they are financially independent.

But in this, there are dark clouds hanging over the world. We may now be very watchful against overt gender bias, but more insidious forms of discrimination are seeping through the way we treat women in traditional media and social media, how we vote men and women into public office, and even in financing start-ups and businesses.  A recent study蜉 at the London Business School proves this. 

The author, Dana Kanze, analyzed the kinds of questions venture capitalists ask female and male entrepreneurs who are pitching their ideas. The differences in the line of questioning are very subtle, and you may almost miss them, but they create a cycle of biases against female entrepreneurs, so that they receive less funding than males.

The study shows that venture capitalists ask male startup founders questions like: “How many new customers do you plan to acquire this year?” That gives him the chance to answer favorably about the potential gains of his business. A female-led startup, on the other hand, gets asked, “How do you plan to retain your existing customers?” As you can see, this question prompts answers that are leaning towards preventing losses from happening, often pushing women to be more defensive.

As a result, venture capitalists who are not even aware of what they are doing, react with their in-depth existing biases towards these answers, and ultimately, these affect how much funding they are willing to give.

This is just one example of the challenges that we are facing today in gender inclusion, and the fact that our success in the fight for women’s rights have a higher likelihood of succeeding if we have men on our side. One of the most recent campaigns our office has joined is called #RespetoNaman, which in English means, hashtag “Respect Please”. 

This campaign is a response to the #MeToo Movement in the United States, #TimesUp and the “Don’t Tell Me How to Dress” campaign in Thailand. We are supported by no less than the Ambassador of Sweden to the Philippines, Harald Fries, and we are bringing the “Don’t Tell Me How to Dress” exhibit all over the Philippines, primarily to enjoin men to protect and respect women. The exhibit shows the clothes worn by women and children at the time of their assault, and has already reached the Senate of the Philippines, the country’s biggest malls, and the United Nations Headquarters in the Philippines, among others.

We are proud that the Philippines is a nation of strong and empowered women and enlightened men. Based on Grant Thornton International’s 2019 Women in Business Report蜉, this year, we have seen the highest percentage of women in senior management on record, at 29 percent worldwide. This year also marks the biggest increase in the proportion of women in executive roles. The Philippines is rated fifth, showing one of the highest percentages of women in senior management positions on record worldwide, at 37 percent. We also ranked eighth out of 149 countries in the 2018 Gender Gap Index, maintaining our position as one of the most gender-equal countries in Asia.

We still have much to do, but this is a good starting point. We believe that inclusivity in general—whether it refers to gender, poverty, disability, racism—is the answer to the Philippines’ economic sustainability, as well as the rest of the world. 

That is because when both men and women support gender inclusivity, the world becomes a better place. As more women join the world stage in public policy, corporate governance, business, tech, and other fields, the unique strengths that women inherently have will result to policies that have previously been considered low on the priority list: quality child care, free early [childhood] education, social care, making gender targets the norm in corporations, among others.  

Having said these, I would like to emphasize that real women empowerment and gender inclusion is not this [century’s] version of the battle of the sexes. It’s about creating real partnerships. It’s about acknowledging each gender’s strengths, and creating a synergy where both genders build each other, rather than put each other down. It is about bringing everyone together, starting with the people in this hall, so we can create a better world. There are things that men do better than women, and there are things that women do better. We need to learn to live with that fact. That is why the fight for gender inclusion is not waged against men. It is waged against inequality.  

So, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to empower the hands that hold up half the sky, that all of us will not just survive, but powerfully thrive. 

Thank you very much for having me today. May you have an empowered and empowering morning. [applause]