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Leaders discuss women’s role in governance

By Jose Oscar Magpusao

Notable women leaders discussed the significance of Filipino women’s involvement in public administration and governance during the #BotoNiJuana: Women as Policymakers event held on Monday.

SPARK! Philippines, in partnership with the Czech Embassy in Manila and the Galing Pook Foundation, hosted the discussion on how women leaders can streamline women and gender policies, as well their role and history in shaping policy in the Philippines.

"There are countless women throughout our history whose names and deeds may not be known to many. They have dedicated their lives to break glass ceilings, break stereotypes, lead changes across sectors of the Philippines, and ultimately push the women’s agenda and have paved the way for other women and girls to follow in their footsteps and become future leaders," SPARK! Trustee Ma. Aurora "Boots" Geotina-Garcia said.

Filipino women in the global stage

Ambassador Delia Albert discussed her time as a diplomat and recounted her efforts alongside the late Ambassador Leticia Ramos-Shahani to initiate the first draft of what would then become known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

She discussed the influence of 30 articles of the convention on national policies in countries that ratified the convention after its adoption in 1979 by the United Nations, mandating, among others, an agenda for national action to address discriminatory practices.

“To my mind, no other Filipino man or woman has influenced the setting of global standards for the protection and promotion of women's rights. And she also took on the challenge of changing global attitudes towards women. Certainly her work has influenced the high rating of the Philippines in the World Economic Forum, global global gap index, where the Philippines for many years has been ranked among the 10 successful countries that have narrowed the rank gap. It mandated, among others, an agenda for national action to address discriminatory practices,” she remarked about the late ambassador.

Albert also echoed the praises the late Czech statesman Vaclav Havel had for Shahani, wherein he had described her as “a diplomat and policymaker who has indeed given power to the powerless.”

"I have written the book ‘Women in Diplomacy’ to document a record of Filipino women ambassadors, who have served the country from 1958 to 2018, of which we have the number 90. We have, I believe, a record not only in Asia, but in other parts of the world as well. It is a record we can all be proud of. 90 from 1958 to 2018 and growing,” she said.

However, she lamented the Philippines’ fall from consistently ranking among the 10 most successful countries that have narrowed the rank gap down to rank 17 in 2021, attributing the decline to the lack of women in politics and governance.

The potential of women

During her forum, deputy Speaker Loren Legarda noted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals’ recognition of the crucial role of gender equality towards global progress, also citing former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s statements in 2011 saying that “the potential of women had not been fully utilized, owing to inter alia persistent social, economic and political inequalities.”

She also highlighted the statements made later on in 2012 by the United Nations Conference recognizing the importance of women in sustainable development and further discussed the great achievements of women in the Philippines, noting the prominent women leaders in the country’s history.

“We must vote for women because of their womanhood, because of their values. We must vote for individuals who see clearly, who value the invisible and uphold nature and humankind. We must vote for values, integrity, consistency, and a nurturing spirit,” Deputy Speaker Loren she said.

However, she also discussed the challenges and inequalities women faced in society due to the gender roles imposed by society.

She stressed the need for women participation and representation, stating that the fight for gender inequality goes beyond providing assistance in or extending government programs and efforts should be focused on strengthening economic rights and investing towards a more sustainable economy.

“We have to pursue the drive to serve the grassroots, alleviate poverty, promote sustainable development, while preserving our culture, while championing climate action, and the environment. We could only do this if we also champion women's and children's rights,” she said.

Care work in governance

Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba, Committee Chairperson on Women and Gender Equality, also gave her insights, remarking that women policymakers generally worked around issues and concerns that strongly prioritized health, education and other key development indicators or “policies that focus on taking care of each other.”

“I'd like to believe that there is a direct link between women running their households and politics. Our care work entails caring for other members of the family, as well as the community. This is also a critical component of government. The government must look after its citizens. We need politics to look after each other. So if you can, if you change the image of politics, from building infrastructures and creative industries, to taking care of people's lives and health, which is especially important during a pandemic, but also afterwards, then our experiences in care work are very good qualities to engage in politics,” she said.

Acosta-Alba then mentioned her work, alongside 25 other legislators composed of mostly women, to file the Gender Responsive and Inclusive Management Act of 2021 or HB 9059, adopting an intersectional gender analysis to address gender differentiated needs during the pandemic.

“The pandemic revealed the true essential value of women's work. And it also showed how our society has perpetuated gender inequalities. As a one size fits all response to the pandemic would be inadequate,” she said.

Acosta-Alba also commended the pandemic responses of female political leaders such as Angela Merkel of Germany, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, remarking that their strong and decisive actions while displaying of feelings “has led the way in showing that these are not competing and conflicting attributes, but complementary and necessary for good leadership and good governance.”

“The qualities that make women great leaders through times of crisis are what makes them great leaders every day,” she added.

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