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    Being the Best We Can Be

    Message at the ADP Philippines Corporate Lunch and Learn Talk on Women Empowerment and Gender Equality

    Ms. Shannon McGinnes, General Manager of ADP Philippines; Ms. Carol Osorio, Operations Manager of ADP Philippines; Ms. Ouida Montesclaros, Finance Director of ADP Philippines; Mr. Noel Fontilla, HR Director of ADP Philippines; Mr. LJ Alejandro, President of ADP Pride; Ms. Joanne Topacio, HR Senior Manager; Mr. Wilson Rodriguez, HR Business Partner; the ADP associates who are with us this morning; invited guests from the ADP partner organizations; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat! [“Magandang umaga!“]

    First of all: Happy Women’s Month! [applause] It is such a privilege to celebrate with some of the strongest and bravest Filipinas today, of course including the few men who are around, and our sisters from the LGBT community.

    I am so impressed by your organization, especially when I heard you this morning, and when I found out that last year, ADP was—not just last year, but even in the years prior to that—ADP was recognized as one of the best companies to embrace diversity and inclusivity. And I also heard that you were named as the Working Mother’s “Best Company for Multicultural Women.”

    These are exciting times for women. Our daughters already study alongside our sons. Women join their male peers as equals at work, changing the dynamics of our boardrooms, the development world, and governance.

    However, despite these, women continue to struggle with lack of gender parity and these are affecting women and girls all over the world. For instance, the labor participation rate is still not equal. More than 70% of our men are in the labor force, while only half of our women have access to jobs.

    But it is not just access that is difficult, because even after we get our foot in the door, women still have to fight to get better pay. In fact, based on the Global Gender Gap Index Report in 2017, the Philippines slid from 7th to 10th place among 144 countries, due to the difference in pay for men and women for rendering similar work. As a result, women in this country still account for 11.2 million of our poor population, and many are vulnerable to indecent working conditions and inadequate social security.

    During my work as a human rights lawyer for many years before I entered politics, I have seen how women, especially those at the grassroots, continue to suffer from abuse, most often from their own husbands or partners. We got used to knocks on our door in the middle of the night by women who needed a sanctuary and legal help, and our house, at one point, became the unofficial halfway home for abused women in Naga City. We would work through the night to prepare legal complaints against their abusers, 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. They go back to their abusive husbands, worried that they don’t have the financial capacity to feed their children and live on their own.

    In the last two years, as we went around the country and learned about the conditions of women in different communities, I realized that my experience in Naga before is not unique. Many times, it is only when women are economically empowered do they feel strong enough to stand against abusive relationships.

    We, at the Office of the Vice President, believe that when women are given the opportunity to be the best they can be, they are able to embrace who they are: strong, confident, empowered and empowering, able to make the impossible possible.

    This is why women empowerment is one of the six pillars of our anti-poverty program, Angat Buhay, where we provide livelihood assistance in the poorest communities, and teach mothers to believe in themselves, believe that they can create excellent products, and connect them to the market. Since we began this program, we have met and gotten to know many women who are heroes not just of their own families, but also of their communities. Women like you who are not afraid to face your own weaknesses, and by so doing, are able to push forward with remarkable strength.

    But it is still true that when we look at our society today, we see a stark irony: it still seems to be very difficult to be a woman. We still witness how women are not just dismissed, but attacked, when we begin to express opposing views. We are expected to remain silent even when injustice moves us to stand for what is right. Social media can become a space for harassment and makes women easy targets, especially those that hold leadership positions.

    Not only that, women are still subject to so many cultural dictates. Women are expected to do household work and do them well. Otherwise, “we are not good wives and mothers.“ In fact, globally, statistics show that 54 percent of women do all or most of the household work, compared to 22 percent of men, and this gap grows when couples have children already.

    Mothers are expected to go straight home from work to do chores and take care of the children, while fathers can socialize for as long as they want after office hours. ‘Di ba? [laughter] Kapag iyong mga nanay umuwi sa bahay at uminom—hindi muna umuwi sa bahay, uminom muna with friends—“masamang babae,“ ‘di ba? Pero iyong mga lalaki hindi. Maraming hugot. [laughter]

    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, and taking care of children’s needs are definitely more important than solving corporate problems. Napakahirap kaya sa bahay, ‘di ba? Mas mahirap iyong trabaho sa bahay kaysa sa opisina.

    I understand how most of you have to juggle so many things in a day: dealing with clients or the big bosses, while taking care of our children and finishing a thousand things that need to be done. Does it feel overwhelming sometimes? I know it does. And as if things are not hard enough, sometimes we are asked to make a choice between our career or our children, just when we are already burdened by depression and frustration.

    Women should never be made to make choices, whether we should remain at home or go to work; whether we should continue studying or let our dreams go away forever; whether we should shift jobs or pursue a full-time profession—sometimes, even two professions; whether we love our partners more than our jobs. Because is it not possible to love and be fulfilled in both relationships?

    You see, right after I got married to my husband, Jesse—napakaaga ko pong nag-asawa, I got married at 22—he decided to enter politics. At that time, I was an Economics professor at a local university in Naga. But he convinced me to pursue law because of a promise he made to my father when he asked for my hand in marriage. Ayaw kasing pumayag iyong tatay ko na mag-asawa na ako, kasi panaginip ng tatay ko na mag-abogado ako. And my husband promised by father that even if we are married already, he will still make sure that I will still become a lawyer. So I was teaching full time during the day, and was going to law school at night. At first it was easy, because it was only me and my husband. But when we started having children, it was very difficult to balance things already, especially because I had to work during the day, go to law school at night, and take care of the baby when I go home. There were so many times when I wanted to quit but I still persisted.

    Eventually, I finished law and passed the bar. I first joined the Public Attorney’s Office, representing indigent clients who needed legal assistance. And then, I joined an NGO called SALIGAN, which is short for Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal, where the main thrust was to render legal assistance to marginalized sectors from the poorest communities in the Bicol Region. We would trek for long hours through muddy trails to reach our communities. We would spend the night in makeshift huts in the middle of rice paddies and small fishing boats because there was nowhere we could sleep. It was a very difficult life but it was where I thrived. But it became possible for me to do what I liked doing because my husband was there with our children everytime I needed to be away.

    But when my husband passed away so suddenly, I had to take the role of both mother and father to my daughters, while having a full-time job. And it has never been easy. Lalo pang humirap noong pumasok na ako sa pulitika. [laughter]

    During the campaign, I received all sorts of crticisms, like I was better off at home instead, or I am just a “widow“ and incapable of the job at hand, etcetera. Unfortunately, it seems that our society still looks down on single mothers; our issues have been placed on the sidelines of public discourse in a society that is used to households headed by both a father and a mother. But I have learned that we cannot let these hold us back from what we are doing and what we’re called to do. Our biological limitations may cause us to hesitate from trying to reach our potential. But being a woman carries with it unique strengths: the skills to prioritize and multitask—mas mahusay tayo doon, ‘di ba?—to nurture with care and comfort, to empathize and connect. These are strengths given to women for a reason.

    It is remarkable how we, women, can accomplish many things in the most difficult of times, and give of our light when there is almost none to give. That is our strength—and sometimes also our weakness. We run until we are spent, and feel that we are not good enough when we fall.

    Please remember that there are miracles that are not for us to make, and we must rely on a higher power, depend on our partners, on our friends, or the community around us, and trust that the impossible can become possible. We must give ourselves time to breathe and preserve our strength. Tamang tama siguro iyan dito, na grabe kayong magtrabaho. Always remember how, during times of emergency, oxygen masks drop for passengers. Who do you give it first? You or your child? The answer is you. Because when you are well, you are able to give to those who need your help.

    This may be an analogy for different things. It means we must strive to take care of ourselves, too. It means we must not allow labels of society to define who we are. When women are free from the burdens of fear and self-doubt, only then can we flourish. Only then can we become the best that we can be.

    As women leaders of today, let us do the best that we can in everything we do. Our world needs women who are empowered to dream and turn them into realities, and allow others to do the same.

    Thank you very much. Happy Women’s Month again to all of you! Mabuhay po kayong lahat!

    Posted in Speeches on Mar 13, 2018