All women are wonder women
Philippine Member of Parliament Josy Limkaichong provides an apt closing for the Wonder Women series on 3 June 2021: “All women are wonder women. Some just need a helping hand to succeed.”
Her constant smile softened her background with hard bound books. Residing in La Libertad, a municipality in her home province Negros Oriental where she represents the First District, she said that she travelled to Dumaguete City to ensure that she would have stable internet connection for the online interview. It was a 2.5-hour drive. But true to the image of the Negrense, one of the kindest and most hospitable people in the country, Josy willingly made herself available for the occasion.
Inspired by her husband, but cautioned by her mother, Josy first entered politics in 2004. She became the first woman to be elected mayor of La Libertad. Growing up in a family of businessmen, she admitted that politics was never in her radar. However, she saw the impact of the work of her husband who was appointed as vice mayor by President Cory Aquino after the fall of the dictatorship in 1986. Later, when Josy expressed interest to run for public office, her mother asked her what her intentions were. “I want to initiate change. This could be my calling,” she recalled answering.
Josy served for three years as mayor. She ran for a seat in Congress in 2007 where she won by an overwhelming majority vote, and became the first woman representative of the province. In 2013, she gunned for the gubernatorial post, but lost. She returned as member of parliament in 2016, and is now on her second term. Josy is an active member of the Liberal Party of the Philippines.
Public service with a HEART
Even before the pandemic, health service has already been a priority for Josy. Her projects focus on HEART: Health, Education, Agriculture, Rural development, Trade and tourism.
Josy is an advocate of reproductive health, which could be a contentious topic in the Philippines. A Catholic country, it took over a decade before the bill was passed into law in 2012. Josy was the only woman legislator from the Visayas region who supported its passage. It was one of the issues thrown at her when she ran for governor in 2013. While she lost in her electoral bid then, she remained committed to her belief that women should have a choice when it comes to their body. She has always allotted the biggest chuck of her office budget for health programs, offering family planning consultations, free contraceptives and ligation services. In the interview, she said she was passionate about the reproductive health law as it “helps empower women to understand how to create the family they choose, and are able to care for.”
With the pandemic, Josy mobilized her resources to provide protective gear for health workers. She secured donations from government agencies, the private sector, and even personal contacts. For one, Josy’s sister who is president of a sugar mill in Negros converted some of their sugar production to ethanol to contribute to the alcohol supply in the province.
Josy is in the front line in ensuring that the country would not experience the same quandary should another health emergency arise. In Congress, she’s pushing for the Philippine Biologicals Development Act that would increase the country’s capacity to produce vaccines. She’s also advocating for the Health Procurement and Stockpiling Act that would guarantee availability and access to critical drugs and other medical equipment during crises.
The bloodline of the economy
Equipped with data, Josy underscored the importance of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in economic development. As 99.5% of the businesses in the Philippines are MSMEs, they generate 62.4% of jobs and account for 25% of the country’s total export revenue.
With her business background, Josy extensively supports MSMEs in her locality. Especially dear to her is ICAN or the Indigenous Crafts Artisans of Negros Oriental. Composed mostly of women weavers, the handcrafted pandan products come with a special tag: the photo of the weaver with a sign that reads “I made your bag”. Josy finds it important to recognize these women who work hard to achieve financial independence and provide for their families.
MSMEs also drive innovation. Josy shared the sweet story of how her team helped jumpstart commerce for the Canlaon Strawberry Growers and Processors Association. After chancing upon strawberry beds and meeting hobbyists, Josy’s office realized the town’s potential as a strawberry growing area. From a small group of eight, strawberry growers are now at 200 in just six months. Josy hopes that the town would be a strawberry hub soon, producing preserves and becoming a tourist destination.
Josy backs the amendment of the Magna Carta for MSMEs. This would provide easier access to capital through extended credit, and warranted selling space in malls and supermarkets. She also promotes government-assisted trainings, where, according to the Department of Trade and Industry, 64% of MSME-participants are women.
A balancing act
The Philippines is ranked 17th in the 2021 Gender Gap Report, placing second to New Zealand in the Asia Pacific region. In 2019, the country was in the Top 10, but dipped due two lower political empowerment figures. Currently, out of 307 seats in the Philippine House of Representatives, only 87 or 28% are held by women.
The pandemic has pushed back gender parity. Josy cited the United Nations’ report that stated that “women are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of Covid-19.” “Working from home while caring for children and household needs requires a balancing act. Women are really a wonder,” acknowledged Josy.
She pointed out that the situation has further resurfaced the issue of unpaid care work, the bulk of which are undertaken by women and girls. “The needs and concerns of women should never be set aside because women are crucial in community development,” stressed Josy. “In a male dominated political landscape, it is the duty of women legislators to band together, to promote gender equality, and break the glass ceiling,” she emphasized.
Josy highlighted the significance of trainings on future skills especially for girls. This is essential to adapt to a post-pandemic world. She talked about looking out for emerging opportunities, which meant embracing digitalization.
Taking care of one’s self to take care of others
Technology is also new for Josy. She got the hang of it when she contracted Covid-19 in March 2021. “I was fortunate to have mild symptoms, but it was mentally stressful. Going through illness by yourself to protect others was demanding,” shared Josy.
She made the most out of the situation by learning how to navigate e-commerce sites. Josy, whom her children used to brand as a 2G mom, was dependent on her kids for online transactions. She was able to navigate this on her own when she was in isolation. From being 2G or second-generation technology, she has been upgraded to the latest 5G – she is a global standard that learning doesn’t stop.
Josy overcomes stress through meditation and prayer. She makes sure that she finds time for self-care: getting a massage or binging on Korean television drama.
She adores her family. She excitedly announced that she would soon be a grandmother. Josy attributes her success to the support of her husband and four children, and to her community whom she also considers her family. She also is proud to have been raised by strong women, including her grandmother, Elena, her mother, Aning, and her sisters Julie and Jeanne. “They keep me grounded. I entered politics conscious of the responsibility and sacrifices that public service entailed. But now I also know that the reward is so much more – everyone I meet inspires me,” cherished Josy. “I try to help people succeed, and they do the same to me. We’re stronger when we lift each other up,” she said big-heartedly.
Watch the full interview here -
Wonder Women is a program about success, wellness, and personal freedom. Exemplary women from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines were interviewed for the online series that ran from April 29 to June 3, 2021.