Keynote Speech: International Women’s Day Celebration 2024

March 8, 2024

International Women’s Day Celebration 2024: “Investing in Equality Toward Gender-Inclusive Prosperity”
March 8, 2024
Samsung Hall, SM Aura Premier, Taguig City

Heartfelt greetings to the women and men of the Philippine Commission on Women and to UN Women. I am happy to address you on the very day we mark International Women’s Day with the theme “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.” Traditionally, we highlight how far we have come and chart a course for the future. I propose to differ a bit and instead pose new questions and fresh challenges since each passing year brings a new context to the struggle for equity.

From our previous interactions, I have the pleasure to report that we have been able to help various women’s organizations that were able to comply with government requirements for support. Small businesses run by women were able to access livelihood assistance from DOLE Kabuhayan and DSWD’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP).

We commend these organizations: the Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) in Manila, Alyansa ng Nakatatanda sa Komunidad (ANAK) in Quezon City, Capas Organic Farmer’s Cooperative of Capas Tarlac, and Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (NAGSAKKA) in Real, Quezon, for recognizing the importance and complying with the tedious requirements for accessing government money.

These programs align with the objectives of the laws I championed, the Magna Carta for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) law and the Barangay Livelihood Skills and Trainings Act, which support rural livelihood development mostly run by women.

Our learnings from the cited projects are two-way — the need to simplify procedures for government support, and for organizations to ensure they have sufficient documentation to meet the requirements. This just goes to show that we have to take into account culture, behaviors, and capacities in formulating procedures and policies to enable women to efficiently access government resources.

We have consistently upheld policies and cultural practices that prioritize women’s rights and recognize their role in nation-building. I have been dedicated to advancing women’s rights through legislative measures such as the Magna Carta of Women, the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which was the first anti-trafficking law in Southeast Asia, its expanded version, and the Domestic Workers Act.

Ngunit, hindi sapat na batas lang ang meron tayo, ang mas mahalaga ay naipapatupad ng maayos ang mga batas at may sapat na pondo para maisulong, halimbawa, ang mga programang pangkabuhayan na mapapakinabangan ng ating mga kababaihan. It is time for us to provide more opportunities for women in education, the workplace, entrepreneurship, rural development, governance, and leadership roles.

We aim to empower more women to achieve financial independence. However, despite progress, women continue to encounter persistent challenges due to gender stereotypes that hinder their access to equal opportunities in employment and financial stability.

According to UN Women, closing gender gaps in employment has the potential to increase GDP per capita by 20%, while an International Labour Organization (ILO) report reveals that addressing the gaps in care services and policies could create almost 300 million jobs by 2035. It is high time for us to acknowledge and appreciate the significant burden of unpaid care and domestic work predominantly shouldered by women in our society. Women are disproportionately responsible for household tasks such as cooking, caregiving, cleaning, and laundry, which often go unrecognized and uncompensated. This imbalance limits their full participation in the labor market and further highlights gender inequalities.

As such, I have introduced Senate Bill No. 1648 or the Unpaid Care Workers Welfare Act of 2022 aimed to challenge traditional family structures and gender norms while also helping Filipinos realize their fair share of household and caregiving duties.

But if at the outset we embraced the differences between genders, we can then start to imagine a society that can allow women to capitalize and invest in their own natural advantages. By breaking down barriers between childcare and work, women would have more opportunities to compete and engage.  If it were not just patriarchy and dominant culture that define women’s fates but also biological and psychological differences, then a whole new field of study opens up. Leaders and lawmakers can then give people options to pursue their desired paths freely. When we do this, women’s nature can take their own course and break free from constraints.

We have, indeed, come a long way. But we cannot keep counting our laurels year after year and not challenge the very foundations of the women’s movement and the consequent failure to take our own talents and gifts into account.  These differences, talents, and gifts might conceivably not make us equal but better adapted at facing the multiple crises that our planet is facing.

As we move towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we can reconsider the phrase women empowerment as connoting that the power has to be taken from somewhere else, that there is an inherent weakness in the gender, and that there is a need to take power from a stronger gender.  Instead, we can take power from our own assets and generate power from within.

To do so in practical terms, we need to ensure that our gains progress into real benefits for women on the ground while considering their own resources and capacities.  Just like power, resources cannot be mere dole-outs as this could potentially suppress women’s ability to use their local resources, such as those obtained from foraging and other ecosystem services. Furthermore, women’s talents, capacities, and strengths need to be recognized and enhanced. GAD budgeting needs to take these into account and graduate from continuous didactic lecturing and awareness on women’s issues to programs that have physical and behavioral impacts that are directly measurable.

Let us continue to work together to break barriers and biases, challenge norms, and create a society where every person, regardless of gender, has the opportunity to thrive and realize their full potential. By investing in equality, we are investing in a future of gender-inclusive prosperity for all.

Thank you and I hope I have been able to make your celebration memorable. Isang luntiang Pilipinas sa ating lahat!