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    Because Women Can

    Speech at the Philippine Women Empowerment in Business

    Sydney, Australia

    [Recording starts] My husband was a long-time mayor of the city where I come from. In 2010, he was appointed as Interior Secretary but we lost him in a plane crash. My husband died in a plane crash and all too suddenly, I was thrusted into this world.

    And when I was a human rights lawyer, in all the years that I was lawyering, I was working for the poor and the marginalized. So when I—during my first elections in 2013 as a member of the House of Representatives, my main thrust already was poverty alleviation—poverty alleviation through empowerment of the basic sector. So my bills were concentrated on that arena.

    And when I eventually became Vice President, I decided that the office will do an anti-poverty program. But our constraint was we did not have funds for it. If you look at our budget, we have one of the smallest budgets in the entire bureaucracy. There’s nothing there for implementation of programs. But because we wanted to do anti-poverty programs in the poorest communities in the Philippines, we innovated. We positioned our office as a sort of a convergence platform where we go to communities needing help and then we go to businesses and organizations wanting to help. So it was a sort of a speed dating game where we look for partners for the communities we wanted to adopt. So while I am not member of the business community, we work a lot with businesses. We partnered—we partner with them and the good thing about it is one of the realizations is that organizations and businesses really want to help but some of them just don’t know how, and we provide for that platform.

    So in the three years that I am Vice President, we started with 50 communities, we’re now in 211 communities. We have been able to mobilize—[applause]—we have been able to mobilize hundreds of millions of pesos and all of these are private funds.

    So that’s what has been occupying my time as Vice President. I will be Vice President until 2022 and we’re excited in doing more partnerships in the sense that we’ve seen how everything works, and it is really possible to link businesses with the very poor communities.

    But my topic this afternoon—this was my assignment from Ed—is to talk about women empowerment and gender equality in the Philippines. They were asking me a while ago that during the forum, I will be asked what can Australia learn from the Philippines. Because if you look at… if you look at the statistics, the Philippines has been doing very well as far as the Gender Gap Index is concerned. We were numbered eighth in the world, number one in Southeast Asia. But I will be talking about the realities on the ground. I will be talking about how it is in communities we’ve been helping.

    When I was a human rights lawyer, more than half of my cases were with battered women; more than half of my cases were with women who have to suffer in silence. So my short speech, the one I will be reading now, will be giving you a different side of what everyone reads about in the news as far as gender equality in the Philippines is concerned.

    Perla Bacuna is a 75-year old single mother from Roxas City, Capiz—those Filipinos who are here might be familiar with Roxas City in Capiz—Capiz is known as the Seafood Capital of the Philippines and it is about 500 kilometers south of Manila. Perla started a business by selling live crabs and other seafood, and she became, in all sense of the word, very successful in her chosen livelihood.

    But what people do not know was that Perla was a victim of domestic abuse who was beaten by her husband every single day for 25 years. Because of this violence from the person who was supposed to love her through thick and thin, she lost all her means of livelihood, her self-worth, and her self-esteem.

    One day, she decided she had enough. With nothing but nine children to feed, she turned her back on her husband. Perla built a new business by picking up capiz shells from the seashore—Capiz shells are those nearly flat windowpane oyster shells which Filipinos might be familiar with—that are thrown away by locals because no one thought they had value. Perla transformed these shells into beautiful, one-of-a-kind wind chimes and other crafts, and successfully raised all her nine children singlehandedly. Now, Perla is well-known not just for her business success, but also because she mentors other women entrepreneurs who have also been abused and marginalized.

    Perla is just one of the many women I have met over the years, who are finding their voice and trusting in their strength to fight back against a culture that has long relegated women to the shadows. Women are finally breaking the glass ceiling, and showing the world that they can lead, succeed, and thrive—not just survive.

    Across all regions all over the world, women today are changing the status quo in company boardrooms, in politics and governance, in the development world—and even in the conversations on climate change. Indeed, women have never been more relevant and more recognized than today.

    We celebrate this, and yet we also note something that is quite alarming. In poor and far-flung communities—worlds that are not so visible, communities very few write about, where developments hardly reach the front pages or trend on social media—progress for women empowerment isn’t just low. It has stalled.

    This disparity and inequality among women must be discussed because the plight of marginalized women cannot remain invisible to the rest of the world forever. It is our duty to talk about women empowerment for allwomen, not just for those in board rooms or positions the world deems important.

    For instance, while Grant Thornton International’s Women in Business Report forecasts that 2019 will have the highest percentage of women in senior management on record at 29 percent worldwide, entrenched gender roles and labor market discrimination in poor communities continue to hamper women’s success and access to sustainable jobs and livelihood.[1] Even as this year marks the biggest increase in the proportion of women in executive roles, in many developing countries, discrimination remains overt. A World Bank survey of 187 economies found that women had, on average, three-quarters of the legal and employment rights of men.[2]

    In the Philippines, although we have one of the highest percentages of women in senior management positions on record worldwide at 37 percent, Filipinas are still subjected to many cultural dictates.[3] For example, women are hushed and criticized because “we are just women.” We are also expected to do most of the household chores, if not all, and judged as bad wives and mothers if we don’t. We are expected to go straight home from work and take care of the house and our children, while it is okay for men to socialize for as long as they want. Stay-at-home mothers are considered less important than their spouses who bring home the bacon, when the truth is that the work done by our calloused fingers are definitely more taxing. Women should never be made to choose between remaining at home or going to work; whether we should shift jobs or pursue a full-time profession—sometimes, even two professions.

    This is the same struggle that Jingle Patong had, one of the women entrepreneurs we have been helping under our office’s anti-poverty program called Angat Buhay. Jingle is one of the women behind Home Plush Toys, a community sewing enterprise initiative of the social enterprise called Anthill. Anthill operates in Cebu, Philippines, a city south of Manila.

    Jingle and her team of mothers create dolls used to help women and children who are victims of violence or abuse process their experiences. Jingle’s husband used to force her to quit her job just because “she is a woman.” But when she started earning more from her sewing, she stood her ground. In tears, she told us that she finds purpose in knowing that her job allows her to help women and children who suffer from violence or abuse.

    It is these stories—the stories of Perla and Jingle—that keep us going in the work that we do. It is when women can stand economically on their own two feet when they feel strong enough to stand against abusive relationships.

    We, at the Office of the Vice President, have always believed that real empowerment truly begins with economic empowerment. That for every woman who is able to thrive and succeed, an entire community can be lifted out of poverty. And this has shaped the way we pursue our advocacy in women empowerment under our flagship program Angat Buhay—our contribution in addressing poverty by bringing together various organizations from the private and the public sector to find the best solutions to the urgent problems faced by communities we have adopted.

    In fact, we have started to roll out what we call Angat Buhay Workshop for Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs or WAWE. AB WAWE is a capacity development training program to help women entrepreneurs like Perla and Jingle build and expand their businesses. We have already launched the program in Mindanao last year and done a second run in Visayas last July 2019. We are hoping that our group of empowered and empowering women will be able to improve and expand their businesses in the coming months.

    We are driven by a vision. A dream where women from all walks of life are given the chance to thrive and flourish. And when they do, they will help other women to shine too. We want to see every Filipina embrace her ability to be the best version of themselves: confident, empowered, and empowering, able to hold her own in any situation, in any business. It is my prayer that this experience will help other women in all nations.

    Mckinsey Global Institute estimates that if the gender gap is fully closed, around 28 trillion US dollars can be added to the global GDP by 2025![4] Another study also shows advancing women equality in the Asia Pacific could add 4.5 trillion dollars to our collective annual GDP by 2025. That is a 12 percent increase over the business-as-usual trajectory.[5] Can you imagine what the world will be like if both men and women freely participate in the workforce?

    Empowering women in business is not just smart economics; it is beneficial to companies and firms with high numbers of women representation in the boardroom—they perform better and profit better. For this to happen, both private and public sector officials—not just the government—need to work together to strengthen trainings and skills development programs for women. The results are much more effective when we collaborate. Ultimately, it is not just enough to have good intentions; we need to turn our intentions into concrete actions.

    This is why all your efforts in creating spaces for empowering women in the workplace is so valuable. Just like male entrepreneurs, women also need support and networks for capital, business mentoring, and for learning how to navigate the ins and outs of business. We need organizations like yours to make things happen, especially those who need help the most. You have the power to develop radical collaborations to mobilize resources. You have the power to create inclusive environments that ensure the welfare of women in the workplace.

    May we all give a new face to economic power — a face that recognizes women as equal partners in achieving transformative change. A face that empowers every Filipina to be the best she can be. Because women can—women can lead and women can succeed. And when women can succeed, we all win.

    Thank you very much. Mabuhay po kayong lahat! [applause]

    Posted in Speeches on Oct 10, 2019