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Women who lead

‘Ang boto ni Juana’

Last Aug. 30, I delivered the opening remarks during “Boto ni Juana: Women as Policymakers”—an event jointly organized by SPARK Philippines, Galing Pook, and the Czech Embassy Manila, where I spoke about the importance of women’s participation in policymaking. Coincidentally, it was held on National Heroes’ Day, and thus was a fitting occasion to pay tribute to women whose heroism should be remembered for their dedication to break glass ceilings and stereotypes, lead changes across sectors, and pave the way for other women today.

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The world is currently in disarray, faced with multiple crises: political unrest, violence, natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic. And a common theme emerges from all these crises: Women are the ones at a disadvantage.

Across every sphere, the difficulties and inequalities arising from these crises are exacerbated for women. Thus, the women’s agenda and our rights and welfare must always be at the core of the response to any crisis and must always be at the core of policymaking.

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Close to home. In the Philippines, we are also fighting our own battles of inequality in different forms and magnitudes. But with the shift in the political landscape with the forthcoming national elections, we now have the opportunity to change the course of our country’s history.

As leaders and crusaders for women empowerment, we have the shared responsibility to ensure that the officials we elect will push for reforms and legislation that have women’s best interests at heart—more specifically, policies and initiatives with a “gender lens.”

Let’s talk numbers. There are 18,180 national and local seats that we will be voting for in the coming 2022 elections. While the perception is that there are already enough women in public office, the 2021 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report on the Philippines cites the lack of women in public office and fewer appointees in the current Cabinet, with a mere 36.2 percent of the gap being closed. In both the House and Senate, women occupy only 28 percent of the total number of seats, and a lower 13 percent in the Cabinet.

There is no doubt that increasing women’s representation and participation is good for society and the economy. It is a win-win for both equality and inclusive economic growth. Having more women in key decision-making positions will ensure better representation of the interests of women and recognition of their nuanced needs and concerns across sectors and sociodemographic groups.

As the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an inspiration for all women, said: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

Women at the center. There are now over 63 million registered voters, and we expect more with the extension of voters’ registration. If the Comelec’s initial count of 51.45 percent of female voters is a good gauge of our numbers, then we have the opportunity to make our voices heard and obtain seats at the table. Let us increase the number of women candidates and women’s representation in government bodies and in public service. We deserve substantial and proper representation—not as a novelty, a token, or as means to meet the bare minimum, but as an integral part of government, with an equal stake in our country’s future.

While society often says that “women hold up half the sky,” society also unwittingly places much of the weight on our shoulders, eliminating opportunities for women to rise. This will change. In 2022, sa “Boto ni Juana,” Filipino women will rise.

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Ma. Aurora “Boots” D. Geotina-Garcia is the chair of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN) and a trustee of SPARK Philippines Inc.

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Women Who Lead is an initiative of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN)

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TAGS: boto, COVID-19, Juana, Ma. Aurora “Boots” D. Geotina-Garcia, SPARK
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