Message at the P&G Philippine Women Symposium
Shangrila at the Fort, BGC, Taguig
Good morning, everyone.
I was quite surprised when I entered the room. You are all so young! You know, I have taken great pride in my office because I also deliberately hired… hire very, very young people. I think the average age of people in my office is mid-20s to late-20s.
But let me greet our P&G officials first: Mr. Shankar Viswanathan, our General Manager; Ms. Gay Quililan, P&G Philippines’ Women’s Network Leader and #Boundless Symposium Organizer; Ms. Evelyn Ng, our Asia Pacific Comptroller and Philippines Diversity and Inclusion Sponsor; Ms. Rebecca Hoch Stetler, our Global Business Services – Financial Solutions and Services; of course, Atty. Mimi Lopez Malvar; Atty. Jocelyn Gregorio Reyes; the very inspiring Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler; P&G Leadership Team; all women present, and the few men who are around; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!
Thank you very for inviting me today. I am very happy to be in the company of such a beautiful, such a young crowd, especially today as we celebrate International Women’s Day.
I know that P&G has a long history of support for women empowerment and gender equality. It makes sense. Your brands touch the lives of billions of women around the world in a hundred different ways. From brushing your teeth to washing your hair, from caring for the baby or cleaning house, from doing the dishes and the laundry, to feminine hygiene—who else would know more about women than the company that tries to make their lives easier every day?
And what better way to walk the talk than to make P&G itself a fulfilling place for women. I am impressed to learn that in 2017, women represent more than half, or almost half, of your management roles and about a third of your senior leadership. Capacity building programs and enhanced benefits have enabled P&G employees to be the best versions of themselves. I do not know if you still have your Yoga Room, your Massage Room, the sleep pod and the oxygen bar that I read about before. Seriously, so many women, including myself, will be green with envy if they still are.
We are grateful for all your initiatives. These are contributing to make today the greatest time to be a woman.
Certainly, there are still many challenges. Last year, the Philippines slid three notches in the Global Gender Gap Report to 10th place, from 7th place in 2016, because of “a worsening performance on the wage equality.” Women have to work twice as hard as their counterparts. Only 50 percent of our women today have access to jobs, contrary to more than 80 percent of our men in the work force. In ASEAN, there is a large number of highly educated women who are still unemployed. Women also remain vulnerable: in the Philippines, they account for 11.2 million of our poor.
Fortunately, our numbers are still better compared to our neighboring economies, being one of the highest performers in the East Asia and the Pacific region. We enjoy more civil liberties than most women around the world, and we receive our education alongside men and join them at work as equals.
But violence against women continues to be part of so many Filipinas’ narratives. In social media, women and girls have become easy targets. Of course Maria would know that. They are vulnerable to sexual harassment and threats of physical harm, their abusers hiding behind anonymous or fake accounts. In fact, my daughters and I have been on the receiving end of such vicious attacks online.
Despite all of these, women today remain strong, resolute, fierce, protective, and—remarkably—still capable of giving so much love. I am not sure if you are all aware of the #MeToo movement, where women are sharing their stories of harassment. The movement is as powerful online as it is on the streets. In recounting their experiences of harassment, these women reel in those who are still in the shadows, a critical development given that victims of abuse would rather hide their scars and suffer silently—sometimes for years—than bear them in public and face scrutiny.
I have known some of these women hiding in the dark. I have not always been in politics. It was my husband, Jesse, who was the politician in the family. When he was still alive, I was a lawyer while, at the same time, also kept home and supported him behind the scenes. It was the life I chose then; it was the life I loved.
Among so-called feminists, this may seem like an admission of weakness. But to me, to be a strong woman does not mean your voice should always be the loudest; it means you are secure enough to know when to listen. But it also means that when it is time for you to speak, men listen and drink deeply of your worthy opinions, because you come from a place of authenticity and wide experience. Being a strong woman is not to win all the time in a tug-of-war; it is a dance of trust and confidence between all genders.
That was how it was with me and my husband, and that is why I do not regret a single moment of our life together. In hindsight, I realize what a blessing it was that I stayed in the background so he can shine in the short life that he was allowed to live. He, on the other hand, supported my difficult journey, first as a young wife, mother, working law student all rolled into one, and then, eventually, as a human rights lawyer.
My years as a lawyer were spent providing legal aid to indigent clients—farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, laborers, informal settlers, and abused women and children—in far-flung areas in the Bicol Region. We sometimes slept in boats and makeshift huts, because there was nowhere else to spend the night. We taught people in the margins paralegal skills, and explained their rights under the law. It was a difficult life, but it was where I thrived. I may never have given it up if Jesse did not pass away.
It was during those years that I had the chance to interact with many women who were victims of domestic abuse. It was not uncommon to find them knocking on our door in the middle of the night seeking refuge. Our small home, at one point, became a “halfway home” for abused women. We would work on their complaints throughout the night to make their abusers accountable, but when the time came for us to go to court, these women would fail to show up. They worried for their children. Without the financial support of their partners, they feel that they would not be able to provide for them.
We did a lot of initiatives to help them. We started an NGO called Bantay Familia, a community watch group that works for the prevention of domestic abuse and protects victims and survivors of domestic violence. This eventually led to the establishment of a Women’s Crisis Center. After the center was opened, we saw a spike in the number of rape cases and domestic abuse cases reported, as victims became more confident that someone will listen to them.
Witnessing the struggles of abused women opened my eyes to why we need to empower Filipinas: True independence comes from economic empowerment. Before, it took years for women to attain economic independence because very few husbands or fathers paid support to the aggrieved mother and child or children. You may win the case, but you lose in the execution. I have witnessed husbands and fathers who were able to avoid paying support by making their salaries appear smaller, or hide their real income in tax shields, or make their businesses appear bankrupt. In some cases, it took more than 10 years to receive support and by that time, the child had grown up in the direst of circumstances.
And then in 2004, a new law was passed: Under Republic Act 9262, otherwise known as the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children. Men are now required to pay for support even while the case is still ongoing, where a certain percentage of the husband’s salary is already deducted automatically in favor of his wife and children. The Law also ensures that if a man beats his wife, he can be told to leave the house, even if it is his or his parents’. To say that the new law was a welcome development would be an understatement.
However, the fact still remains that our society is kinder to men than to women. In the average Filipino family, the men normally get the lighter chores. The women are expected to do more work, as if they had more time in their hands. Fathers can socialize for as long as they want after office hours. But mothers are expected to go home straight from work to do more work at home.
We cannot let this continue. We can change this by raising our children to treat women with respect, and to be aware of the need for gender equality. Perhaps we can begin by teaching our young boys at home to wash their own clothes. I was particularly happy to hear of your #JuanWash campaign, which encourages men to do their share of laundry in the home. This resonates with me, because when it comes to valuing work done in the home, our society is still very much gripped by gender bias. Isn’t it true that while women who excel at work is celebrated, she is still expected to do the laundry, wash the dishes, clean the house, and take care of the children when she gets home? Stay-at-home mothers are considered less important than their spouses who bring home the bacon. The truth is, the work done by our calloused fingers are definitely more taxing, and taking care of children’s needs are infinitely more important than solving a corporate problem. We seriously need to appreciate those hands that rock the cradle and wash the dishes.
After Jesse passed away and I stepped in to continue the work he left behind, I pursued my advocacy for women empowerment as representative for the Third District of Camarines Sur. We conceptualized programs and projects that create livelihood opportunities for women, link them to markets, and connect them with mentors. And that’s what P&G has been doing for our Angat Buhay program. Because of these, we saw women embrace hope in their new lives. When women are free from fear and self-doubt, they become self-sufficient and inspire others to achieve their own independence. Once they regain their confidence and see their potential, they stand up against their abusers.
But we also realized that we need better legislation to protect them. For example, under Republic Act 7877, only sexual favors requested or required in work, education, or training-related environments are defined as sexual harassment and are punishable by law. This shows a very limited understanding of women in crisis. Because in reality, many harassment cases are committed in the home, with family members as aggressors. Perhaps it would surprise you that most of the time, when children accuse their fathers of rape, their mothers would defend their husbands more than protect their daughters.
This is why, like we said earlier, women and girls who are victims of domestic harassment or violence dread the act of talking about their experiences. Whether they have a doctorate degree or have no education at all; whether rich or poor; even if they are in the prime of their lives or seen in society as powerful; women whose sense of security are violated cannot help but freeze in fear and self-doubt. It is tragic that because we lack an enabling environment for victims to speak out and get help, they remain wounded—sometimes for life.
Married men and women who have committed marital transgressions are also treated by law differently. While it is very easy to send an adulterous wife to jail, it is almost next to impossible to have a husband convicted for a similar transgression.
But more than legislation and other interventions, the work of protecting women requires each of us to be more inclusive in our plans and our policies. And this starts here, today, among those of you who have the power to influence others in significant ways.
For our part, women empowerment is one of the key pillars of the Office of the Vice President’s anti-poverty program called Angat Buhay. Under this program, we replace our office attire at least once a week to visit the farthest and poorest municipalities, and find ways to complement the programs of the government and bridge the gaps where we find them. We are focusing on livelihood for women, health and food security, in many difficult places all around the country. We believe that Filipino families will strengthen when mothers are empowered and loved.
Filipinas may be facing tumultuous times, but this is also their time—our time—to shine. As your theme today suggests, there are no limits to what a woman can do if she finds her voice, if she thrives in enabling environments, and if she gets the support she needs from her family, her company, her community, and her country.
Recent attacks against our rights and freedoms mean that now is not the time to falter. And I believe I am standing in front of many strong, passionate women today who are not about to waiver. May this symposium heat up the fire in you, to remind you of the limitless opportunities that await all of women.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary people, and I believe that women who persist, women who dream boldly and live these realities, women who lead with hearts and work well with their hands, are exactly the people we need right now.
Let the fires within us light the path for others. May we be emissaries of love and hope, having faith that in the end, good will always prevail over evil.
Thank you very much, and mabuhay po kayong lahat. Happy International Women’s Month!