What I’ve learned from the ‘She Talks Asia’ forum

Alexa Villano
What I’ve learned from the ‘She Talks Asia’ forum
Yes, we have made steps in the right direction, but there's still a lot to be done when it comes to women's rights

Last March 10, I was able attend the She Talks Asia forum held at the Blue Leaf in Taguig. The summit had more than 100 participants with topics ranging from women empowerment, finance, body shaming, and the #MeToo movement, which has been a big discussion following the scandals of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood.

She Talks Asia is a project of a group of friends from different fields. These include Sara Meir, a former model and magazine editor; Victoria Herrera, model, host, and book author; Eleanor Pinugu, co-founder of Mano Amiga Ph; and actress Iza Calzado.

The forum discussed many topics in celebration of Women’s Day in the Philippines and Women’s Month in the US. As a graduate of an all-girls college, I have been taught the importance of empowering oneself and the women around us. But during the forum, I learned that while the Philippines has been catering to women’s needs, there are still a lot of issues to be resolved.

Broadcast journalist Karen Davila was the first speaker. She discussed the importance of women supporting women. She opened a quote from the former US secretary of State Madeline Albright: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

In the slides that she presented, Karen pointed out that women tend to put other women down. 

“That’s the thing with us women. If you’re too strong, you’re not feminine,” Karen said. “If you’re too sweet, you’re a flirt.”

Karen shared that women allow themselves to be labeled because they label others as well.

Social media, she said, also plays a big factor, citing a 2016 study where many people often feel jealous what they see on Instagram. 

Karen said that the best thing to do is to work hard and find the best self in you to feel comfortable about who you are. In the many slides she shared at the forum, one of the lines that struck me was about the personalities people choose to look up to today.

“Don’t shy away from being with another woman. Do pursue women that you want as a role model. Go to them. Make them your friends. Actually hang around with women that you feel will make you better,” she said. 

“Think of who your role model is. Do you have one? Choose a role model…women who are not admired for their beauty or their body. Choose role models for their values, what they’ve done,” Karen said.


She ended her talk by telling women not to be threatened by each other. “Start opening doors for each other and I’m telling you, you will be fulfilled and happy.”

Another panel I looked forward to during the forum was the He for She panel. Nico Bolzico, Mikee Carrion, Ben Wintle, Kim Atienza, and Quark Henares were the guest speakers.

All of the men in the panel shared how much respect they have for women. Mikee, a sports analyst married to artist Nikki Luna, said at one point that the boys will be boys mentality has to stop. As a football coach and sports commentator, Mikee said that there’s still so much to be done in sports especially when it comes to women. 


Quark, a filmmaker, shared that when he entered showbiz, he was shocked by some of the things he witnessed, such as the explotation of women. When the #MeToo movement started, he thought that it would spread to other countries, including the Philippines.

“In showbusiness in the Philippines, for some weird reason, wala,” he said.

Quark added that he could not help but feel frustration because it wasn’t only young women who were being exploited but also men.

“Definitely behind closed doors, there’s a lot of really variable things happening and I can’t just…I mean this in behalf of Iza…if you want to speak out…if you had the experience, we are behind you 100 percent” 

Topics on being a girl boss, finance, and communications were also discussed, but the forum took a more serious turn when we discussed the #MeToo movement and loving your body.


In the #MeToo panel, Ces Drilon, motivational coach Pia Acevedo, and rising singer Toni B were the speakers. Ces, who has been a broadcast journalist for many years, shared a story about her battle on sexual harassment against a former colleague during her early years in the field. She admitted to feeling afraid of losing her career. She then later spoke up about the issue without revealing the person’s name. The trauma she said, led her to work with an organization for abused women. (WATCH: #MeToo: Breaking the silence on sexual violence)

Toni B and Coach Pia also had their own battles to fight. Toni shared that she was a rape victim, while Coach Pia shared that she was molested at a young age, which would trigger her depression as she grew up.


I was fortunate to get a chance to ask the panelists more about #MeToo. When I asked Coach Pia about how impart lessons from the #MeToo movement to kids especially young boys, she said that educating them is very important.

“They [the all-boys schools] try their best, especially in the K-12…they educate, they continue to have this formation. But the most important influencers are the nuclear family. Your impact, your feedback on how they behave. So the role model of the young men is their father or their father figure. If they see that their father or father figure acts or treats women in a certain way, then they allow themselves to be the same. 

“So as women, be very responsible in educating not just the young man but the father figure of what the consequence of making fun of women’s clothes, making fun of women’s bodies. What consequence brushing that off in front of the younger man. So you also educate the older men not just the adolescent.”

The last part of panel is about body love and body shaming. Iza, who has been an advocate for body positivity had the likes of former Miss World Philippines titleholder, Gwen Ruais, Rona Samson-Tai, Kat Gumabao, and Adrianne Concepcion in the panel. All of them have their stories to tell about the pressures of body image in today’s society.

Rona and Kat, who are plus-sized models and TV personalities shared that contrary to what people say about them being curvy and big, they are so proud of their bodies. Rona even said that when she exercises, people would comment that she’s not getting thin. She exercises to build her strength, stamina, and endurance, as well as keeping active. It’s not just about losing weight she said.


Adrianne, a fashion stylist and transwoman, shared that while there’s respect for women like her, she had to learn how to stand up for herself in the battles she’s faced. 

Kat, who has been based in the US and working as plus-sized model shared some tips for everyone when it comes body issues. She first and foremost said to love the shape they are in.

“If you take care of your body, it will take care of you,” she reminded the audience.

The panel also got the chance to talk about the recent incident where Riverdale stars Camila Mendes and Lili Reinhart slammed Cosmopolitan Philippines for photoshopping their pictures for the March issue. Both said that what the magazine did was disrespectful since the US version did not tweak their photos for the international cover, sending a bad message to local women about themselves.

Adrianne, who has worked with the publishing industry, acknowledged that photoshopping photos is a big practice in the industry. Social media she says plays a big role.

“I think social media in general – all of us on Instagram [has] our filtered lives…I think the other lesson on this issue is the power of celebrity influence. Because people think that if you’re under the limelight, they think you’re perfect…you guys (celebrities) have the voice,” Adrianne said, adding that using the influence in a postive way is the key.

The forum came to a close with a talk by Bea Ledesma of Preen, I was reminded that I’m fortunate to have been given the chance to learn so much about women’s issues in today’s society. I may not be a victim of sexual harassment, but it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t or could never happen to people close to me.

Body shaming is still rampant and it takes a lot of courage to stand up to it. Call them out, tell them you are proud of your shape.

Men also have their thoughts on women’s issues and you’ll be surprised that there are still gentlemen out there who will fight for the women and treat you right.

Forums like these are a big help. Yes, we have made steps in the right direction, but there’s still a lot to be done when it comes to women’s rights.  – Rappler.com

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Alexa Villano

Alexa is one of Rappler's Lifestyle and Entertainment reporters, covering local entertainment news to a wide range of topics from beauty pageants to reality shows.