Speech of House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda Lone District of Antique Representative, House of Representatives “Women and Inclusive Security and Peace: Women Leaders Breaking Glass Ceilings in a VUCA World” March 6, 2021

March 6, 2021

Good morning, everyone.


We gather today early this March to celebrate Women’s Month, which is meant to honor the leadership and excellence of women in various fields, as well as recognize the struggles and challenges they continue to face at this day and age when gender inequality still pervades in our society.


I thank the Executive Master in National Security Administration (E-MNSA) Class of the National Defense College of the Philippines for organizing this very worthwhile event and for this privilege to deliver a message to all of you today.


I am honored to be with fellow women leaders and listen to their stories and insights who are championing equality and inclusiveness in our society’s decision-making processes that remain heavily dominated by men. Women empowering women and their efforts to close the gender gap. Women who are breaking the glass ceilings in this world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA).


I would like to continue by sharing the gender perspective in what I consider as a major national security threat and what many governments and scientists also consider as the greatest threat to humanity and our planet:  the global climate crisis.


As you may already know, the Philippines is a highly vulnerable country to the impacts of climate change. We are consistently cited as one of the top countries most affected by climate change in terms of casualties, displaced populations, affected livelihoods, and losses and damages to our infrastructure and agriculture.


We often attribute climate change to tropical storms and typhoons that have entailed billions worth of damages, affected millions of Filipino lives, and set back our country’s economic growth. But it’s not just about these tropical cyclones because climate change is also about creeping, slow-onset events, such as rising sea levels and increasing ocean temperatures, occurring without the drama of a calamity, but are likely to cause more damages to our coastal communities and our entire economy.


We have also often looked at climate change from a gender-neutral perspective, but it should not be. Climate change affects women and men differently because our societal and cultural roles and responsibilities affect our actions in response to these climate impacts. And in light of existing gender inequalities in terms of decision-making and access to resources, climate change is found to affect and kill more women than men.


Dr. Glenn Roy Paraso, member of the CCC’s National Panel of Technical Experts and Executive Director of the Mary Johnston Hospital, highlighted the gender-differentiated impacts of climate change and health crises.


Let me provide more context:


In Bangladesh in 1991, when a cyclone and massive flooding occurred in the country, the death rate of women was almost five times higher than men. This is primarily because many women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative.[1]


Women in Senegal, who are often responsible for fetching water, walk longer distances to fetch drinkable water with a 35 percent decline in rainfall, particularly in areas where there are no wells or no connection to a water distribution network.[2]


In the Philippines, following the devastation of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, an estimated 250,000 pregnant women were sheltered in evacuation centers but had no access to maternal care and services. Around 900 childbirths were expected daily.[3]


These tell us that climate change is not gender-neutral, and it is in this same lens that we have to look at the aspect of gender in our COVID-19 response and recovery.


As Dr. Paraso, a member of the Climate Change Commission’s National Panel of Technical Experts and Executive Director of the Mary Johnston Hospital, said:


“Health, per se, is neutral. However, culture’s gender norms and values give rise to gender differences. Both gender differences and gender inequality can give rise to inequities between men and women in health status and access to health care.”


As a legislator, it has been a personal crusade to ensure that the laws and policies for the advocacies I champion are gender-responsive. But it was not as smooth sailing as I would have liked it to be, especially in my early years entering into politics, which is still dominated by men.


It was an extremely difficult time to run for government office then, when I was at the peak of my career as broadcast journalist. Much more so because my advocacies for the environment and climate change seemed new and out of place.


When I ran for senator in 1998, I was actually warned to be prepared to lose if I espoused the environmental agenda. During my reelection year in 2007, many thought I was out of my mind when I championed the climate change agenda.


Yet, I took a leap of faith. In both years, I was victorious, becoming the only female in Philippine history to top the Senate race twice. I proved that a woman with a heart for the environment can win the votes of the people amidst the politics of men.


Winning the elections, however, was just the start. I wanted to deliver on the need to improve the lives of the Filipino people through legislation and appropriate funding—all the while ensuring that gender equality and women empowerment are promoted and mainstreamed.


In light of the prevailing and growing challenges from the twin crises of COVID-19 and climate change, we need to further incorporate the aspect of gender in order to pave the way for an inclusive, participatory, gender-responsive, and resilient path for our nation and our people.


Allow me to quote from the Global Commission on Adaptation report on advancing social equity through gender-transformative climate change adaptation, which is also extremely relevant as we continue to recover from this pandemic, where they said:


“Women’s empowerment involves being aware of gender inequalities, expanding opportunities and choices, increasing access to and control over resources, and transforming the structures and institutions that reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality. For women—at least half the human population—and other marginalized groups, there is no real change unless the power dynamics defined by patriarchy, privilege and prejudice are transformed.”


And that:


“Those who are vulnerable and marginalized are already facing formidable barriers in adapting to climate change. Ignoring this challenge is maladaptive, as it adds to the vulnerabilities of those already burdened disproportionately and encourages new types of exclusions.”


In mainstreaming the gender perspective in our climate actions for post-COVID recovery, as well as in other development challenges we face, we therefore need to improve the gender balance in our governance structures and decision-making processes across all levels in our society.


We need to ensure that the aspect of gender informs the design and implementation of our country’s plans and actions towards sustainable and resilient development.


While we recognize the vulnerability of women in times of crisis, we should value more their unique perspectives and insights in coping and overcoming these challenges. We need to highlight women as holders of valuable knowledge and agents of reform and change in our country. We must acknowledge the capacity of women to get involved, decide, take action, and lead.


But let’s not forget that championing gender equality and women empowerment is a cause for both men and women.


In this world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, we need all genders, sectors, the whole nation working together and uplifting and empowering each other to achieve our common goal for our people, country, and the planet.


Thank you very much. Mabuhay tayong mga kababaihan! Isang maganda at maka-kalikasang umaga po sa inyong lahat!


[1] Oxfam America, Fact Sheet: Climate Change and Women (2008/09) https://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/climatechangewomen-factsheet.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] UN FPA 2013 Annual Report. https://www.friendsofunfpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/FOUNFPA-2013-Annual-Report-08.26.14_FINAL_small.pdf