Message at the 3M International Women’s Day 2018
“Different Minds Inspire: Reflect on Your Own Unique Strengths”
Grand Ballroom A, Shangri-La at the Fort Manila
Mr. Ariel Lacsamana, Managing Director, 3M Philippines; Mr. Reggie Pulumbarit, our General Manager of 3M Global Service Center; my fellow resource speakers; members of the 3M Philippines family and the 3M Global Service Center family; Ms. Sookie Chiongbian, HR country leader; honored guests; mga minamahal ko pong mga kababayan: Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat!
First of all: Happy Women’s Month to everyone—including the men. [applause] Thank you very much for… Thank you very much for inviting me here today, as we celebrate the strength, the passion, the power of every Filipina we know in our life and in our community.
I have to admit: I was surprised and amazed by how your organization has been actively promoting a work environment that embraces diversity and inclusion among peers. It is hard to imagine how these values come into play, especially coming from the company that we know is behind products like Post-its, Scotch tape, and Scotch-brite—products that women and mothers love all over the world.
I also heard about your global company initiative, “I’m in. Accelerating Women’s Leadership,” an inspiring movement to expand opportunities for women in leadership roles and create a more conducive workspace for all. Last year—and I was congratulating your heads earlier this afternoon—you were recognized through the prestigious 2017 Catalyst Award, for your efforts to include and advance more women in your organization. Indeed, not only are you uplifting our women leaders, but you are also exemplifying best practices that many corporations around the globe can do on their own as well.
And this campaign can also be felt here in our country. You have empowered countless Filipinas through your organization. By investing in our women, you have opened doors of opportunity, bringing them closer to the realization of their dreams. We cannot stress enough how important it is to include women’s voices in our conversations, and we are grateful to find that 3M has given this chance to their women leaders.
However, we all know that challenges remain. Filipinas today are facing truly extraordinary times. Last year, the Philippines slid three notches in the Global Gender Gap Report to 10th place, from 7th in 2016, because of “a worsening performance on the wage equality.” The reality also remains that women have to work twice as hard to be where their counterparts are in society. Only 50 percent of our women today have access to jobs, contrary to more than 80 percent of our men in the work force. Women are still part of our most vulnerable sector, where they account for 11.2 million of our poor.
Women also continue to face detriment and discrimination. Violence against women continue to be part of so many of our Filipinas’ lives. Even in social media, women and girls have become targets of sexual harassment and receive threats of physical and sexual harm. It has become easier to instill fear and anger now, because aggressors hide behind anonymous or fake accounts.
Yet, above all of this bad news, our women remain strong and embody so much light and love in our world today. I know each of you here has someone, a woman they look up to during difficult times: your mother, your sister, your best friend. Each of us has her own story to tell—and each one is a story of triumph and overcoming great odds.
In my life’s work, I have seen first-hand how our women today have fought their way out of the shadows. As some of you may know, I have not always been in politics. It was my husband, Jesse, who was the politician in the family. When he was busy being mayor of Naga City before, I was working as a human rights lawyer, while supporting him and keeping home behind the scenes. It was the life I chose, and it was the life I loved.
My years as a lawyer were spent providing legal aid to indigent clients in far-flung areas in the Bicol Region—farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, laborers, and abused women and children. We would sleep in boats and makeshift huts, because there was nowhere else to spend the night. We taught people paralegal skills, and explained their rights under the law, so they could defend themselves even after we left. That was my work for more than a decade, and I may never have given it up if Jesse did not pass away so suddenly.
It was during this time that I also had the chance to meet women who were victims of domestic abuse. In working with them, I saw their very difficult struggles: how they have lost their voices in their own homes, how they have allowed frustration to foil their escape. Our home in Naga, at one point, even became a halfway home for these women back then. They would knock on our door in the middle of the night, seeking refuge from their abusive partners. I would listen to their stories, and we would build a case together to make their aggressors accountable. But when it was time to hear the complaints in court, they refused to show up. They would return to their partners—their abusive partners—worried that they did not have the financial means to sustain their children and live independently.
Seeing the struggles of our sisters who fall prey to abusive relationships opened my eyes to the bigger picture: More than an issue of gender and equal opportunities for all, the root of the problem is really economic. To address gender inequality and women empowerment, we have to search for means where they can provide for their own.
True independence comes from economic empowerment. When women are free from fear and self-doubt, they can become self-sufficient. In their success, they also inspire other women to achieve their own independence. What we saw was revolutionary: women embraced hope in their new lives and stood up against their abusers.
After my husband passed away and I stepped in to continue the work he left behind, I pursued my advocacy for women empowerment as representative of the 3rd District of Camarines Sur. While we were there, we conceptualized programs and projects that create livelihood opportunities for women, link them to markets, and connect them with mentors. One could only imagine the wonders that women are capable of doing, when they are given the chance to excel in their field. The possibilities are endless.
Empowering the Filipina has become one of the pillars of the Office of the Vice President’s anti-poverty framework called Angat Buhay. In fact, the principles of your organization, such as diversity and inclusivity, resonate with our office so well. We believe that when women claim a seat at the table and a voice in society, she becomes an active force in moving our country forward.
When we took office, one of our principal advocacies was to spearhead programs that uplift Filipinas in all sectors, so they can have better lives to live. The Office of the Vice President has been partnering with various groups and individuals from government, the private sector, development groups, and civil society to address these needs. We have also been engaging with different organizations of women, and worked with them to see how we can further develop programs and projects for their welfare.
With projects like Angat Bayi and Babaenihan, we want to ensure the welfare of the last, the least, and the lost of our women, and help them realize their fullest potential. This means providing opportunities for livelihood, giving them access to skills trainings, and educating them of their rights and privileges under the law. In more than a year, these have become avenues and means for growth for many Filipinas in our adopted communities.
Slowly but surely, we are creating a more inclusive society for all. We have said this before: confidence and hope spark excellence, and excellence breeds success. Now, more women are taking high-ranking positions in their professions, with some even starting their own. Women are playing prominent roles in their communities, and countless Filipinas are becoming key leaders in every industry.
You are in a position where you can make things happen, not only for yourself but for the people around you. Make use of this advantage. You are leading lives of power—the ability to make a big difference in the lives of your fellow Filipinos. And to be powerful is to have a heart—one that beats with pride, not only for yourself, but for the people you love, and for the country we hold dear. Share this power for those who have less, so that they will be as empowered as you are.
Filipinas may be facing tumultuous times, but this is also their time—our time—to shine. As more women are becoming role models for our future generation, the will and determination within each and every Filipina continues to be fostered—to persevere and to be movers and game-changers of our world today. Together, we are capable of bringing about change for all, and we can go further if we believe in what we can do.
During these extraordinary times, women empowerment does not simply mean making them aware of their strength as individuals; it is also about making sure that they can be the best versions of themselves. It means giving them confidence, courage, and the audacity to speak out. When they live in the light, they can stand up against the encroaching darkness in today’s societies that foster division, anger, frustration, and hopelessness. We are here to tell each Filipina that their strength is innate, that their narratives are unique and beautiful, that they can be themselves and still be loved. They can be the glue—perhaps unassuming, gentle, but strong, just like the secret glue in 3M products—that continues to hold our society together.
As we celebrate Women’s Month, may we be reminded of our unique strengths and passion as Filipinas today. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary people—and I believe that women who persist, women who dare to dream and live these realities, and women with a strong mind and heart, are exactly the people we need right now.
You are all embodiments of hope, love, and light. The work that you do is not only for the women of today and tomorrow; it is for the future generations to build upon. May you touch more lives with your work, and continue to empower more women in your midst.
Thank you very much. Mabuhay kayong lahat!