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Do women really hold up half the sky?

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Mapping The Future

Do women really hold up half the sky?

05:01 AM November 13, 2017

While browsing the internet recently during a lull in one of my trips, I came across an article quoting former First Lady Michelle Obama, who said, “Don’t waste your seat at the table … If you are scared to use your voice, then you’ve got to get up and give it to someone who isn’t afraid to use the spot.”

I am sure many women reading this article can relate to similar situations as sometimes
speaking up in the workplace can be intimidating. However, if we heed the advice of the former First Lady, this is a practice that every woman needs to adopt to succeed in the workplace.

But do women really need the extra nudge? Or rather, do women have to exert extra effort just to be heard? Is it because gender inequality still exists in the workplace, which puts women in a disadvantaged position to rise up the ranks and flourish in their respective careers?

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In the Philippines, you will be surprised that some men and even women think that women are not in a disadvantaged position. The popular sentiment is that the Philippines is a matriarchal society and that women are very much empowered. Some men would even joke that it is actually the men who need to be “liberated.”

A Pulse Asia survey conducted in December 2016 shows that close to half of respondents in Metro Manila (48 percent) and in Mindanao (50 percent) believe women in the Philippines are not disadvantaged with respect to their rights and status.

But do these anecdotes and numbers really reflect the reality?

Just last Nov. 2, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released their 2017 Global Gender Gap report where the Philippines fell three notches to 10th place this year.

While the Philippines maintained its status as the top-ranking country in Asia, we were nudged to second place in Asia-Pacific by New Zealand. The report attributed the slip in the Philippines’ ranking to the “worsening performance on the wage equality for similar work done” or more popularly known as the “gender pay gap.”

The slip in the country’s ranking shows the need for a stronger push and sustained efforts to achieve gender parity.

This is the mission of the recently formed Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE)—a coalition formed under the Business Partnerships Component of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Investing in Women Program, in partnership with the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (Philwen).

The member companies have committed to work towards gender equality in their respective workplaces. As of press time, pilot companies of the coalition are undergoing a gender equality assessment process to determine the gender responsiveness of their policies and practices.

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The WEF study further stated that it would now take 217 years for disparities in the pay and employment opportunities of men and women to end. This is significantly longer than the 170 years estimated in the 2016 study.

It seems that a wall continues to exist for women’s economic opportunities, not to mention the barriers for more women directors in corporate boards, which remain to be male dominated. Various women’s groups have initiated programs to break these walls and I am confident that it will be just a matter of time.

Leading change

In line with these initiatives, the centerpiece of the Philippines’ successful hosting in August 2017 of the Asean Women’s Business Conference Week, or what some now refer to as the “Asean Gender Week” was “WEE”—or Women’s Economic Empowerment.

This week-long conference was a rare opportunity—a front seat into learning the different stories of Asean women entrepreneurs and business leaders who started small, but never ceased to dream big.

These were remarkable women who struggled to convert their bright ideas into small enterprises, but succeeded with the right support and market access. There were also women who worked their way up the corporate ladder to assume senior management roles.

But most inspiring of all were stories from women who, notwithstanding challenges, succeeded, and have made it their life’s mission to mentor and help other women succeed. Just as former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”

I also had the privilege of delivering on behalf of Asean Women in Business and the private sector, and our partners in government and civil society, the “Manila Statement on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment in Asean.”

The statement recommends the endorsement of an action agenda, which we hope will be adopted by the Asean leaders during their meetings.

These are some salient points from the said action agenda:

1. Adopt concrete and measurable actions to address barriers that impede women’s full economic potential.

2. Promote women’s participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (Steam), and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).

3. Invest in programs, which provide enabling environments for women MSMEs to prosper.

4. Increase women’s representation and leadership in the workforce.

5. Encourage public and private sector collaboration through the Asean Business Advisory Council (Abac) and the Asean Women Entrepreneurs Network (Awen) for advocacy, networking and outreach and create more opportunities for women in business.

6. Organize an annual Asean Women’s Business Conference led by Awen in coordination with other stakeholders.

Asean women are optimistic that through the Asean leaders’ recognition of the action agenda, women will benefit more from a regional economy.

Where does this leave us? I say it is time for a shift in the “empowerment” conversation.

I urge you, CEOs of companies, those in senior management positions, government leaders, and civil society groups to support and carry the commitments from the Manila Statement Action agenda to your respective decision-making platforms and to put the women’s economic empowerment ideas to practice.

Women can only truly hold up half the sky when they are empowered and given access to the right opportunities.

(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is chair of the MAP Ease of Doing Business Committee and Sub-Committee chair of the MAP Women Empowerment Committee. She is also chair of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network. Feedback at <map@map.org.ph> and <boots.garcia@pbcwe.com>. For previous articles, please visit )

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