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    Empowering Women Leaders of Today

    20 March 2017

    Speech at Accenture’s International Women’s Day 2017

    I guess I’m wearing the right color tonight. Marami na tayong naka-red.

    But as I was coming in, I was telling Lito, that even as I was coming in from many women’s day celebrations today, I was still quite surprised when I entered seeing a hall full of mostly women. Pinagyabang sa akin ni Lito that Accenture is one of the most gender diverse in the entire Accenture universe, so congratulations.

    It is a privilege to be with you this evening. I am so impressed to see how your company is very active in attracting women into your ranks. Leading In “the New”, as your theme says, it has been proven that companies that involve women in decision-making are more dynamic because of diversity of opinion and inclusivity of policies.

    So congratulations to the women, but also most especially the men, who give the women here their well-deserved seats at the table.

    Filipinas enjoy more liberties compared with most women around the world. Our daughters are able to study alongside our sons. Women like us are able to join our male peers as equals at work. In fact, more women are now in influential places in government and in senior management positions.

    These are far from the stark reality in many places in the world today. In Afghanistan, for example, there were women who attempted to speak out or take on public roles that challenge ingrained gender stereotypes who were killed. There are staggering levels of sexual violence in Congo, and in Pakistan, tribal practices still force children and women into marriage.

    Trafficking is an emerging problem still in India. All these are the result of a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey released to launch a website providing free legal advice to women around the world.

    All these remind me to appreciate the freedoms we women enjoy here in the Philippines and the work of so many people in promoting gender sensitivity and empowerment in our country.

    As you might know, the Philippines currently ranks 7th in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum. This puts us ahead of over a hundred states, including first-world countries like United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland.

    And Accenture is one of the reasons why we can boast of those numbers. It is one of the best companies to work for in the country precisely because of the attention you have given to empowering women in the workplace.

    But while we’re No. 2 in the world for the highest share of female senior managers, that proportion lies at just 39 percent. That is not even half of our country’s executives.

    Sadly, over the past ten years, the labor force participation gap between men and women has hardly changed. More than 70% of our men are in the labor force, while only half of our women have access to jobs. Despite our progress in closing the gender gap, we must do more.

    Women in this country account for 11.2 million of our poor population. Several of them are still vulnerable to indecent working conditions and inadequate social security.

    During my work as a human rights lawyer for many decades, I have seen with my own eyes how women at the grassroots still suffer from abuse, most often from their own husbands, relatives, or friends.

    In my hometown in Naga City, our family’s small apartment, for a time, became an unofficial halfway home for abused women. We got used to knocks on our door in the middle of the night by women who need a sanctuary and legal help.

    We would work through the night to prepare their cases, so they can be emancipated from their suffering. But you know what happens? Almost always, by the time we go to court, the clients no longer show up, having gone back to their places of abuse, worried that they don’t have the financial capability to feed their children and live on their own.

    When I assumed my position as Congresswoman and eventually as Vice-President, I went across the country and studied the conditions of women in different provinces and localities. And I realize that my experiences in Naga City are not unique.

    What the rosy statistics do not show are the suffering of women especially those who are poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. In the stories of their lives that I have personally discovered, one thing was clear: what abused women need is economic empowerment. The ability to gain control over their financial lives give women confidence, hope, and a sure way out of their prison of abuse.

    In Angat Buhay, the Office of the Vice-President’s flagship program to address poverty gaps, we have included economic empowerment for women as one of our focuses. In the 50 municipalities that we have adopted, we look for women who suffer abuse and help local government leaders create systems so that they are given the support that they need.

    We don’t just aim to give them a safe space to nurture their inner confidence, we seek to give them livelihood opportunities. Through our partners, some of which are companies like Accenture, our aim is not just to provide women with technical support to help them develop their small businesses, but also link them to markets where they can sell their products and services at better prices.

    Our vision is to see them embrace their ability to be the best version of themselves: confident, empowered and empowering, able to hold their own in any situation, in any business, in any nation.

    That is our dream. But the conflicts women have to suffer are everywhere. Even here in Metro Manila, in the richest business districts, even in the boardroom, even the seats of power, even in social media, Filipinas are facing new challenges.

    We witness how our opposing views are dismissed. We are expected to stay silent even when someone makes our knees and legs the subject of discussion. Course language and misogyny are expected to be amusing.

    In social media, fake news, alternative facts, and post-truths are shared even when they are vicious and show no respect for gender sensitivity. The digital world, which can be a potent tool for positivity, goodness, and world-changing innovations, could become an outrage machine used by anyone with an agenda. Even my own daughters received threats of bodily harm and rape.

    It is not easy being a woman in these situations. Mankind has made so many advances throughout history, but in our brilliance, we must not forget to protect the dignity of human beings and the right of everyone to enjoy the freedoms we have long fought for. The future of our world depends on it.

    When I got married to Jesse, I was a full-time economics professor at a university in Naga and a law student at the same time. After we had children, I had attempted to become a full-time mom, while being a teacher during the day, and a law student at night.

    After I passed the bar, I decided to become a lawyer for poor clients who did not have enough to pay for their own lawyer. Eventually, I joined an NGO called SALIGAN. We would trek for long hours through muddy trails to reach the most remote and poor communities. I can even remember instances where we slept in boats even when I was still pregnant.

    After my husband’s death, I immediately had to take the role of both mother and father to my daughters, while having a full-time job. It is never easy.

    During the campaign, I received all sorts of criticisms like I am better off at home instead, I am just a “widow” and incapable of the job at hand, etcetera. Some of you might have come to a point where you were forced to choose whether you should remain at home, stop studying, shift jobs or pursue a full-time profession, sometimes, even two professions.

    But we, women, should never be made to choose. We do not have to allow labels of society to define how women should be.

    In my journey, I have witnessed that when women are liberated from fear and self-doubt, from the shackles of society, only then can they flourish into themselves. We owe our children that kind of world.

    A world where a woman does not have to fear speaking the truth. We owe our children a world where gender does not stop her from being who she wants to be. We owe our children a world where women and men do not have to fight, but allowed to collaborate and engage productively. I can sense that what you are doing now, you are doing what you can to make all this happen. This event is proof of that.

    I know the path that we tread on in these times are much more complex and challenging than we thought but let us never lose hope. Now is not the time to give up on our endeavors.

    May we always continue to create more avenues for people to connect than disengage. It is in these times that we need to bring people together to address the complex challenges, opportunities, and uncertainties that lie ahead.

    As women leaders of today, let us find the best solutions to make our country better, especially those that are out of reach.

    Let us reclaim social media with positivity and hope, for both men and women alike.

    And above all, may we fully embrace of what it means to be a woman in these times – to bring life to everything that we do and live lives of purpose.

    Thank you all very much and happy International Women’s Month to one and all!

    Magandang gabi pong muli sa inyong lahat!

    Posted in Speeches on Mar 20, 2017