MANILA, Philippines – In a field dominated by men, how do women rise to have their voices heard?
Vice President Leni Robredo shared her struggle with the women of TOWNS Foundation as she received “The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS)” Tanglaw award on Thursday, November 17.
“I try to stand tall as a woman who occupies the second highest position in the land. When I go to cabinet meetings I see a roomful of people who hold in their hands the power to shape or break this nation. Most of them are men with the usual tendencies that men exhibit,” an excerpt from her acceptance speech said.
Robredo alluded to being at the receiving end of offensive and “inappropriate remarks” and said this should not be tolerated “most of all from our leaders.”
During the commemoration of the Yolanda anniversary in Tacloban City last week, President Rodrigo Duterte quipped that at one cabinet meeting he looked at Robredo’s knees when she wore “a dress shorter than usual”.
Robredo said she is already used to the President, who had repeatedly expressed his admiration for the Vice President’s beauty. She however later said that this kind of behavior should not be encouraged.
“Do I speak in a certain way so that I appear strong? Do I have to wear certain clothes or look a certain way? Do I play the power game or should I keep my eyes focused on the fight of the men, women, and children whose agenda I carry in my hands?” she asked on Thursday.
Choosing your battles
She said her “commitment (to women) will never waver,” having spent a good part of her private practice lobbying for women’s rights as an alternative lawyer. But there are more pressing issues that the country needs to focus on. (READ: Robredo: ‘I’m now in a position to make dreams happen’)
“[We] are the ones who choose where the battleground will be, what we fight with and who we fight for. As the duly elected Vice President, I choose to fight poverty through building homes and communities. The Philippines is poised through growth but the developmental issues facing us are still massive and the work to be done very urgent,” she said.
Since she took over the Office of the Vice President, she has transformed it to an advocacy-based center working on 5 issues: food security, rural development, public health care, education, and empowerment.
Her office launched on October 10 Angat Buhay, which forges partnerships among private sectors, aid groups and poor local government units in need of assistance in development.
Robredo reiterated her election promise to empower women, particularly those in the laylayan (fringes of society) by capacitating them and eventually lifting them out of poverty.
In the end, she rallied her newfound “TOWNS sisters” to join her in training women who are working to build their own enterprises and advocacies.
“The poor are smart but most of the time they are paralyzed by self doubt they need someone who will listen, who will believe and who will mentor them. They need you.” – Rappler.com
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