Female Forward International
Keynote Message of Rep. Stella A. Quimbo, PhD at the FNF Webinar: Young Female Leaders in Politics

Young Female Leaders in Politics
© FNF Philippines

To our organizers from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, distinguished colleagues, and guests, good afternoon! Happy Women’s Month! Thank you to everyone tuning in and for capping off Women’s Month with us this afternoon. It is my sincere desire to celebrate women every month, not just in March, because the value of women does not fade after 31 days. As human beings, with equal dignity and potential as men, we are equally able to bring forth progress in the world.

Yet, until today, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles. In the Philippine House of Representatives, for example, there are only 85 congresswomen – that’s 28.3 percent out of 300 representatives. In the Upper House, of the 24 senators, only 7 are women. Sadly, both houses of Congress still fall short of having that 30-percent “critical mass” mentioned by some scholars, much less equal, 50-50 representation. In the Cabinet, we see a similar story. Each of the last five administrations only had three cabinet secretaries that were women. And even looking at top positions in the private sector, women still earn less than men.

In the Philippines, what causes this gender imbalance in leadership? In terms of education, women actually outperform men. There are more women among those who finish higher levels of education and fewer women among those with lower levels of educational attainment. Furthermore, fewer girls than boys drop out of school. So, women clearly have the qualifications, yet they lack the same leadership opportunities. So, unfortunately, they hit a glass ceiling.

So, women clearly have the qualifications, yet they lack the same leadership opportunities.

First, this is partly driven by structural and cultural patterns in the country. Perhaps, there are times, when as a society, we forget the value that women can bring to leadership positions. Filipinos love and respect women, especially their mothers. We are a matrifocal society. The downside of this, however, is that our society may tend to assign women to the homemaking roles only, which hinders women’s participation in other roles in the public sphere, especially in politics.

Our society bestows domestic responsibilities upon females. And women are underappreciated because what they contribute to the domestic sphere brings significant economic value, but the value, nonetheless, is hidden. For example, women and girls are responsible for household chores that, strictly speaking, they typically perform as unpaid workers. We do not pay housewives salaries, but they perform very important tasks. How important, you may ask? Well, try to outsource these chores and it will cost you a fortune.

Second, according to the literature, women face a more complicated calculus than men when they consider running for office. They weigh their educational background, previous political experience, encouragement from others, and familial responsibilities especially child bearing and rearing - factors that men are less likely to consider as much when deciding to run. This may be another cause of our limited success in accessing elective positions. There is a similar finding on the private sector where women, when asked to rate their own performances, tend to be less generous than men with self-assessments, despite the fact that they tend to perform just as well, if not better, in evaluations of their supervisors. In short, there is scope for further empowering women to believe in their capabilities.

Third, even when women are appointed to leadership roles, there may still be a bias – conscious or subconscious – to place them in agencies or departments that address the same typical “feminine” roles in society. Of the twelve women cabinet members of the last five administrations, half were appointed as Secretary of Social Welfare and Development. Generally, this may reflect a tendency to limit women leaders to a certain stereotype – more “nurturing” and less “strong.”

The world is losing out on so much potential by not fully considering the lives of women, their encounters, their inputs, and their proposed solutions.

Despite the barriers posed by societal biases, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. The Philippines has reached some significant milestones when it comes to empowering women. Since 1986, we have had two women presidents, two women vice presidents, and a woman speaker of the house – feats still unheard of in many other countries. For female workers, recently, New Zealand has been making news as “one of the first” countries to pass legislation on paid leave following a miscarriage, but perhaps a little known fact is that the Philippines has had such an employment benefit for years, a benefit which I have personally experienced. On two occasions, I recall being grateful for respite after traumatic miscarriages. I believe the Philippines has great potential to continue closing the gender gap in other aspects of life and empowering future generations of women.

Around the world, as noted by our organizers, women leaders have proven to be highly capable during the past year in handling the pandemic. Not only have they handled the health and economic response, but they’ve proven to be inclusive leaders in this time of crisis. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, for example, during the early days of the outbreak, held a special press conference just for children to effectively explain to them the radical changes happening around the world because of COVID-19. Of course, I’m not generalizing that women’s natural focus is on children, but I do think there is a maternal factor that allows women, like the Prime Minister, to be sensitive enough to include children in the conversation and listen to the problems that are unique to them.

What does this tell us? Women’s experiences and women’s perspectives should be considered in leadership decisions. After all, there are experiences that only women can truly know of - motherhood and maternal health, pregnancy, and violence against women, to name a few. As people who have these experiences, we must be given the venue, especially during this pandemic, to voice out our concerns, because we are equal partners of men in economic recovery and in nation-building. The world is losing out on so much potential by not fully considering the lives of women, their encounters, their inputs, and their proposed solutions.

Economic empowerment is a long process, but we have to stay committed to this goal, being one of the most sustainable paths to opening up opportunities for women.

As an economist, I also advocate for the need to consider women’s perspectives in economic issues. To illustrate, one-third of the country’s economic stimulus package called the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act –– consists of expanded loan programs in government banks. Now, let’s ask the classic feminist question: Where are the women? Will most women benefit from Bayanihan loans? Not as much. Many women work in the informal sector, and are more likely to have difficulties in accessing loans. In the Philippines, fewer women than men own bank accounts. For a loan program to be considered pro-women, they have to be microfinancing-based, as significantly more women than men have access to microfinancing. This is also the reason for why overall, there is a reverse gender gap for financial inclusion in the Philippines.

I believe that we should pay more attention to economic interventions that are actually pro-women, or that benefit women disproportionately more, such as policies that target MSMEs or informal workers. Economic empowerment is a long process, but we have to stay committed to this goal, being one of the most sustainable paths to opening up opportunities for women.

The reality is that when we carry out our duties in the workplace, we are always representing the female community to our colleagues, and there is a sense of responsibility that comes with that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to other women, especially young women, to serve as role models that can help inspire them to reach new heights as leaders – showing they should never feel limited by the barriers imposed by others.

And so, as women, we have to continue to speak up about women’s issues, and we have to be heard. For each woman and girl, I believe we all have a responsibility to uplift each other and embody the ideals of gender equality. I’m sure we all look forward to the eventual day when, in the selection and determination of our leaders, gender won’t even be a factor anymore. With collective action among women, and including men as our allies, I believe we can turn this ideal into a reality.

Further, those of us who are already in leadership positions must be cognizant of the profound power of representation. The reality is that when we carry out our duties in the workplace, we are always representing the female community to our colleagues, and there is a sense of responsibility that comes with that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to other women, especially young women, to serve as role models that can help inspire them to reach new heights as leaders – showing they should never feel limited by the barriers imposed by others. The young female leaders of the future will stand on our shoulders just as we are standing on the shoulders of the incredible women leaders before us.

With that, I’d like to give a big thank you to FNF for inviting me here today. I, and all the women here, truly appreciate your efforts to forward this important advocacy. I am confident that we have an afternoon of rich and insightful discussions ahead of us, so I will not make you wait any longer. Mabuhay po ang kababaihang Pilipino!