25 January 2017
Message for Asia Women’s Summit, Asia CEO Events, Marriott Hotel
It’s an honor to be around so many amazing women, and to be joined as well by the wonderful men who support us. I’m sure that this has been an exciting day so far, full of insight and inspiration.
Being part of something larger than ourselves is a very human need. Just four days ago, scores of people from around the globe marched to protect the rights of women. It was a feast of eloquence. It was proof of the power of passion. And it was illustrative of where true power resides—here, in the heart, especially if its a heart for the poor, the weak, and the unprotected.
In Washington D.C., where the march originated, 27 women were honored as brave champions of women’s liberties. Among them was our very own late President Cory Aquino, whose birthday we also celebrate today.
Imagine: decades after she assumed the Presidency, Cory Aquino remains a global symbol, not just of democracy and peaceful revolution, but of strength, courage, and dignity. All throughout our nation’s history and in today’s difficult times, there are many Filipina heroes just like Cory Aquino. Our society is, in fact, very appreciative of women.
Consider this: the Philippines currently ranks 7th in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum. Our ranking puts us ahead of over a hundred other states, including advanced economies like Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. We enjoy more civil liberties than most women around the world. We receive our education alongside our male peers and join them as equals at work.
When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, Filipino women perform even more outstandingly. Globally, the Philippines has the second-largest proportion of women in senior management roles—second only to Russia, and ranking highest in all of Asia.
There are also many women in the political sphere. But when we go deeper into the numbers, there’s a hidden narrative. While we’re No. 2 in the world for the highest share of female senior managers, that proportion lies at just 39 percent. That’s not even half of our country’s senior executives.
I understand that there are still difficult realities all of us women have to deal with, in spite of this glowing description of gender equality. For instance, despite our progress in closing the gender gap, our country continues to be patriarchal. Sometimes our ideas are dismissed, only to see those same ideas welcomed when a male colleague offers them.
Or maybe you’ve seen how male bosses are expected to be domineering, whereas assertive female executives are passed off as bossy. Or maybe you are expected to smile and do nothing, when someone in the seat of power makes your knees the subject of a national discussion.
Altogether, it seems that women have to work extra hard to achieve a certain level of success and credibility. And along the way, we put ourselves in the cross-hairs of prejudice. We find ourselves reduced to our appearance and our bodies.
Having said that, let me also acknowledge the foresight of many corporations in our country today that nurture an empowering environment, for both men and women. They give equal opportunities to both sexes, and by doing so, allow all to be excellent in what they do.
Isn’t that a good business decision? By widening the net of excellence, companies make more money, enter more markets, and create a more sustainable enterprise. In some companies, in fact, I heard that women empowerment can be too strong that men have become the ones marginalized!
Women’s journey’s are as divergent as they are inspiring. I remember when I launched my campaign for the Vice Presidency. My popularity at the start was almost non-existent. Initial surveys before the campaign period showed that I captured only 1% of the voter base. When I started going around, it was usual for people to come up to me, asking: “Do I know you? You look very familiar.”
I had to work doubly hard to spread my message of hope and my vision of reform—especially for the poorest in our nation. Together with my team, I traveled to countless communities, meeting Filipinos from all stations in life. I trekked to villages, rode boats and habal-habals. I did this because I believed that my dream of a better Philippines was worth upholding and defending, despite my low numbers in the election polls, despite all the odds.
Right before the election, surveys showed that I was finally neck-to-neck with my chief rival for the Vice Presidency. Still, various attacks were made against my fitness for office.
I’ve heard that I was only popular because of my late husband, Jesse, and that I know nothing about serving the people. Never mind that my extensive track record in public service spoke for me, and that I was already Congresswoman of the 3rd District of Camarines Sur when I campaigned. I don’t know of many men in politics who are accused of inexperience, despite overwhelming proof to the contrary.
While Jesse’s legacy—not just as a public servant, but also a husband and a father—wholly inspires my work, everyone who knows me up close knows I am my own person. I am my own woman. Jesse encouraged me to be so.
In my journey, women empowerment is not about proving your supremacy over the opposite sex. It is about knowing that there is a time to lead and a time to follow, there is a time to speak and to listen, there is a time to agree and to agree to disagree. Jesse’s respect for my work and his support for my advocacies gave me a healthy understanding of the role of each of us in the things we were most passionate about—our family, his service to Naga City, and my fight as a human rights lawyer for the poor and disenfranchised.
As Vice President of the Philippines, one of my principal advocacies is empowering Filipinas, particularly the poorest and most marginalized. When our women are liberated from their fear and self-doubt, from the minor roles that society imposes on them, only then can they flourish into themselves.
Only then can their talents blossom for the larger good. The progress of our country truly depends on the successful empowerment of our women.
To make this happen, my office is partnering with various groups and individuals from government, the private sector, development groups, and civil society. Our goal is to bring economic empowerment to Filipinas on the margins.
I have found that poor women cannot break free from abusive environments because they do not have the means to support themselves otherwise. We will give these women the means.
You are incredible women from every imaginable background, of every conceivable political persuasion, and of infinite potential for changing the world. You are leading lives of power. When I say power, I don’t mean wealth, trophies, or fame. The power you possess is your ability to make a huge difference in the lives of your fellowmen. Make the most of this ability.
Use your influence so that people less fortunate—especially the women—will be as empowered as you are.
And remember: power does not depend on brute force or macho posturing.
A truly powerful leader will not disempower the people and frighten them into silence.
No. Power is in moral integrity and intelligence.
Power is in working as hard as you can for something greater than yourself. And here’s something that we women already know.
To be powerful is to have a heart, one that beats bravely for yourself, the people you love, and the country we hold so dear.
Thank you very much, at mabuhay po kayong lahat!