Message of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda: #BotoniJuana: Women as PolicymakersAugust 30, 2021
At the onset, I would like to thank SPARK! Philippines for inviting me once again to your webinar, in partnership with Czech Embassy and Galing Pook organization. I recall that just this March, I also delivered a message in the roundtable discussion for women and governance. This time, we will be highlighting the importance of women’s role in nation-building as active policy and decision-makers.
I also note that our gathering coincides with this year’s celebration of the National Heroes’ Day. May we take the time to honor the brave women who came before us, fought for our independence and changed our history including, among others, Gabriela Silang of Ilocos Sur; Melchora Aquino or, more commonly known as, “Tandang Sora”; the Visayan Joan of Arc, Teresa Magbanua; the founder of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, Josefa Llanes Escoda; World War II veteran Magdalena Leones from Kalinga.
Over the centuries, the role women in our homes and in our society has vastly changed, from being domesticated to pursuing different professions, to becoming leaders in our own right. Yet, there is still a clarion call to spark, perhaps sustain, dialogues on women’s role in nation-building and to strengthen women’s agenda as part of our 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals recognize the crucial role of gender equality as one of the drivers of global progress. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledged in 2011 that the potential of women had not been fully utilized, owing to, inter alia, persistent social, economic, and political inequalities.
Earlier on, the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or the Rio+20 highlighted “the need to recognize the importance of women in sustainable development in all three dimensions – economic growth, social improvement, and environmental protection – and that ensuring their equal rights and opportunities and supporting their economic empowerment are powerful means in achieving sustainable development”.
In the Philippines, as we pursue the pathway that will bring the economy to greater heights, we cannot deny the fact that the role of women in our society has continuously evolved along with the progress we have achieved. Women have been in leadership positions and continue to lead in the Philippines, but challenges for women, in general, continue to persist.
As a lawmaker, I have always taken a firm stand against issues that affect women. Since my first term as Senator in 1998, I authored and sponsored numerous laws for the protection of women’s rights, including the Magna Carta of Women, the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and its expanded version which was the first anti-trafficking law in South East Asia, and the Domestic Workers Act. In my last term as Senator and in my capacity as Chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee, I funded the establishment of the Women and Children Protection Center under the Philippine National Police.
I have always been an environmentalist and a defender of women’s rights, but I have always wanted an opportunity to share the convergence of these two issues by illustrating how invisibility, devaluation, and debasement happen in our society for both women and nature. For women, the undervalued labor, the unpaid domestic work, the failure to truly appreciate inner and outer beauty that uplift lives and brighten days, these are things of value that do not go into the ledgers.
In the same way, nature’s gifts are assumed to be infinite and free, incalculable and considered externalities.
Because the language that the current society understands is numbers, we may need to frame the discourse for now in a language that society understands, at the risk of simplification and commodification. We need to talk about the failure to value women and nature as an asset management problem, as an opportunity cost. If we are to take the opportunities of this double crisis of public health and climate, we need to take these issues by the horns and turn them around quickly and efficiently. We need to recover in order to survive and even thrive in the better normal.
Because once we start recognizing the importance of women’s mental, managerial and domestic load, once we value natural capital, we will be on our way to better management of our homes, our ecosystems and habitats, our government.
You see, not only women but all those who have had to manage homes and find the best, most efficient and cost effective ways to find, present and extend food for the family, make the most out of every day choices, find use and benefits from every material in a household have already developed a keen sense of sustainability. These are the lessons that can be carried over to ecosystem management and governance.
WOMEN ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
Strengthening women’s economic empowerment depends on our realization of women’s economic rights which requires us to revisit the structural inequalities in the household, markets, government and different sectors of the economy. Most of the women are in the poverty trap: vulnerable, paid lower than men and, worse, they take on more non-remunerated work due to the imposed gender roles imposed by our society that start in the households.
The existing gender and social inequalities are even exacerbated during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic and have worsen the vulnerabilities of women. There is therefore a need to provide policy interventions that enable women to make choices as economic actors.
Toward this end, I filed House Resolution 1681 which calls for a legislative inquiry into existing laws related to women economic empowerment, with the end in view of determining new or amendatory policy measures are needed, which programs need to be given more budgetary allocation to ensure that the economic rights of women are safeguarded, and equitable economic opportunities and benefits for women are made available.
I also been working with the different national agencies to ensure that the different programs of the government reach our women at the grassroots level not only to reduce unpaid care and domestic work among women, but also to give them the opportunity to gain economic freedom. Among these are:
- the DSWD’s Sustainable Livelihood Program as well as its Conditional Cash Transfer Program;
- the DOLE TUPAD or Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers Program, I initiated the provision of community-based package assistance that provided emergency employment for displaced workers, underemployed and seasonal workers. We even accelerated the implementation of this program during the imposition of quarantine in Metro Manila and other LGUs, and provided support to the families affected by typhoons Ulysses, Quinta, and Rolly last year; and,
- The DOLE Pangkabuhayan, which is a form of livelihood assistance, most of our beneficiaries across the country are women who sought assistance for their livelihoods such rice trading, sari-sari store, frozen food store, school supplies store, among others. On a side note, allow me to just mention that in March this year too, I met with 9 women’s organizations together with the UN Women Philippines and my office has facilitated their livelihood project applications which will be funded through my initiative. I am pleased to share that three of these women’s organizations (ANAK based in Quezon City, and DAWN and FCRY based in Manila) have hurdled the long process and will soon receive the assistance that will be given to them;
I have also worked with the Department of Trade and Industry and, during my stint as Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, sponsored the increase in the budget for the Shared Services Facility (SSF) that aims to provide machinery, equipment, and tools to our Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) which are, fortuitously, run by women.
INVESTING IN WOMEN FOR GREEN ECONOMIES
Once we engender women economic empowerment, we can integrate too women’s participation in our aim to shift to green economy.
I have been supportive of promoting women’s employment and entrepreneurship opportunities that are aligned with sustainability, resilience and the other principles of a circular economy that I have also been pushing for.
A study conducted by James Heintz et al on how the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to a paradigm shift on our economic futures, implies that the sense of urgency that the pandemic has engendered provides a window of opportunity to spearhead a feminist paradigm – one that integrates care for people and planet and uses it to inform policy pathways toward sustainable development. 
Embracing these gender-responsive policies and programs, we could attain a greener, cleaner and more sustainable development trajectory in the near future. Women are part of the solution.
We have to pursue the drive to serve the grassroots, alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development, while preserving our culture and championing climate action and the environment. We could only do this if we also champion women’s and children’s rights.
Our fight for gender equality does not end in just providing assistance and extending our programs in the government. We need WOMEN PARTICIPATION AND REPRESENTATION. We could do these if we strengthen their economic rights and invest in them towards a greener and more sustainable economy.
No, I will not tell you to vote for women, some of our women leaders are men in their policy making. Vote, instead, for men and women that see clearly, value the invisible and uphold nature and humankind. Vote for values, integrity, consistency and a nurturing spirit. If we all do, we will eventually see a political system where even the men count on their feminine side when making hard decisions.
 The Future We Want – Outcome Document. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?menu=1298
 Heintz, J., Stabb, S. & Turquet, L. (2021) Don’t Let Another Crisis Go to Waste: The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Imperative for a Paradigm shift, Feminist Economics, 27:1-2, 470-485,