Updated: Jul 24
The Filipina Feminists attended the Women Summit 2020: Women in the Next Decade. Here are some event highlights...
VP Leni addresses the #GenerationEquality
Last March 5, we went to the Women Summit 2020 as The Filipina Feminists and it was just a source of inspiration for both of us. Women (and some men!) of all ages, from different industries - some even from different countries - gathered into a single hall to discuss issues that truly matter to our gender.
The theme for this year's summit is "Women in the Next Decade" where the term Generation Equality is emphasized. According to UN Women, this campaign "demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, health-care services that respond to their needs, and their equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life."
Different Perspectives on Feminism
Feminism: an Unfinished Business
H.E. Bita Rasoulian, Austrian Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines, started the day with defining women empowerment as an unfinished business.
Past generations of women fought for our liberties today but there's still some ways to go.
To Bita, feminism does not mean women are grooming ourselves to be stronger than men but it's more of us shaping our communities to change how they perceive our strength as women. She also pointed out the empowering women should "transcend borders and privilege". Recognizing our privilege helps us in understanding the struggles of others.
Our First Vagina Monologue
After that, Ateneo Entablado performed a Vagina Monologue that urges us to reclaim our sexuality. To be our own clitoris. It was the first time we've heard a live performance like this and we really enjoyed how the monologue was a tribute to the discomfort most Filipinx women experience when talking about sexuality. After all, feminism, as a movement, encourages us to stop shaming women because of our sexual history or activity.
Peace and Feminism
The program proceeded then to fellow iska, Samira Gutoc, who shared to us what the malong symbolizes to her and the women of Mindanao. Malong is a rectangular piece of cloth used to wrap around the body as a form of clothing. But it's so much more than that.
It could be a makeshift fitting room or a blanket or a turban. It serves more function because it has to.
Not every Filipinx has the luxury of private comfort rooms or even stable shelters. Because of ongoing violence and pending peace talks, many people from Mindanao are displaced from their homes and lack the basic necessities to live comfortably. In this setup, victims of war are mostly women and children who become more vulnerable amid the violence.
As Peace Builder and Convenor for PCID, Samira urged us to "weave peace" like how the malong fabric is weaved; the north and south should seek peace and harmony, not war.
Similar to Samira's concern on the lack of government provision in Mindanao, Amina Evangelista Swanepoel told the story of the Palawan girls. As Founding Executive Director of Roots of Health, she led the team to provide reproductive health education to the marginalized communities in Palawan. Roots of Health targeted the cause of increasing cases of unwanted pregnancies and sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs) in the area:
lack of knowledge on reproductive health.
Sex has become such a taboo in the country that our basic education curriculum does not include the relevant social components on the topic. Amina questioned how empowered women really are when we can't make decisions about our bodies. With the way we are taught about sex, we become ashamed to ask for the necessary services for fear of judgment. We are not informed how consent works and what a healthy relationship looks like. This kind of thinking worsens the rape culture and chips away at the liberty other women have fought for in the past.
Amina believes that by educating women and girls on our sexuality, we can make better decisions for ourselves, be empowered and empowering members of the society.
Woman at the Intersections
Dr. Natsy Verceles, Director for UP Center for Women's and Gender Studies, took an intersectional approach on feminism. She recognized that women have many social identities. Society focuses instead our familial identity and our potential as future mothers and homemakers. This puts pressure on women to focus more on supporting the family's dreams; her personal goals then take a backseat.
With this philosophy, our struggles related to ethnicity, disability, race, age, SOGIE, and class might be overlooked. But to understand and even attempt to empower women, we also have to take into account that women have multiple social identities. For instance, a woman from a prominent family may have equality concerns because of her gender. But a transgender woman with a diverse ability may have struggles that the first woman isn't able to fully comprehend due to the privilege of her upbringing.
Women empowerment, for Dr. Natsy, is both a means and an end. It is our goal to achieve gender equality but we have to appreciate the long and hard process and the difficult fight to push for equality in various social aspects. For this fellow Iska, collective collaboration and an intersectional lens are needed to achieve gender equality that cuts across overlapping social identities.
Empowering Women's Minds
Women's struggles are indeed a unique experience. This said, our mental health usually take a toll when dealing with gender discrimination. For Miss Internation 2016 Kylie Verzosa, mental health is her personal advocacy. In 2018, she created Mental Health Matters as a safe space for people to talk about their personal experiences. She believes that by talking about it openly, we lessen the stigma associated with mental health concerns.
On the issue of beauty versus brains, Kylie affirmed, "We are more than our bodies; we have something to say and we want to be heard." As an ate (sister) we can look up to, she shared some tips on how to achieve confidence and be our own woman: she encouraged young women to believe in ourselves, stand up for what we think is right, and surround ourselves with like-minded people as our "core team". Finally, Kylie advised that we should embrace humility and face our mistakes with an open heart and mind for learning.
Inspirational Speech from VP Leni
The Vice President of the Philippines, Leni Robredo, graced us with her presence as well. It was our first time to see our beloved VP and we're both happy that we got the chance to hear a woman in power talk about feminism. She told the story of how her mom was her main source of empowerment and how "cast[ing] pebbles that will create social change" has been her mantra.
"Everything I learned about women empowerment, I learned from my mom; to be empowered and always empowering" — VP Leni Robredo
VP Leni talked more about one of her main projects, Angat Buhay. Its main goal is to alleviate poverty by bridging communities that need help to partner organizations that can provide resources or services. The Vice President recapped the efforts of the anti-poverty campaign by sharing the stories of the people they helped. From entrepreneurship bootcamps, the economic potential of women is supported by connecting them with suppliers and possible opportunities to scale-up their businesses.
Indeed, VP Leni casts these pebbles and the ripples created by the team provide communities with a way to help themselves and to change their lives for the better.
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.
A Woman's Choice
By the end of the morning session, the panelists were open to answer questions from the audience through live Tweets. We took the opportunity to ask them their take on legalizing abortion and divorce in the Philippines. Both are controversial topics in the country as various groups continue to lobby against passing bills that legitimize these options. To this day, the Philippines remain the sole country (except for Vatican) that still criminalizes divorce.
Luckily, our question got picked and the panelists were able to respond gracefully. First, they recognized the weight of the question. Not all Filipinx are comfortable talking about these matters simply because they affect life and family, which are both highly valued in the Filipinx culture. Then, Dr. Natsy put it simply: it's just an option, one of the possible options a woman can make in her life. She emphasized that the option is there in case someone needs it. Not everyone has the same privilege and forcing women to continue with unplanned pregnancies and stay in abusive households do not reflect gender equality. Amina looked back to her experiences with the Palawan girls and how knowledge on reproductive health empowered them in their daily lives.
Their answers touched us in a way because it was part of our truth as feminists in progress. Women's movement in the past enabled us to vote in today's age. But not every woman exercises her right to vote. Our rights and the laws that enable us to exercise those rights simply give us multiple options. But just because we might not need them or choose not to utilize them, doesn't mean we have to rob others of this same avenue.
In the age of #GenerationEquality, we recognize that all of us—women, men, queer, Filpinx or not, young or old, can contribute to the equality of the next generation. Our foremothers fought for most of the rights we now enjoy. It's our time to take on the torch and do the same.
There you have it! Which feminist perspective resonated with you the most? How will you take part in #GenerationEquality? Send us a DM through our Instagram page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you and exchange women empowerment stories!