The Manila Times


Empowering snippets from The Manila Times Women’s Forum 2023



WHILE women deserve to enjoy the world’s admiration and appreciation for their important and immeasurable contributions to society every March, they should also remember that Women’s Month is A CALL TO ACTION AMONG THEM fiRST of all. For throughout history, in assessing the enormous strides the world has taken toward women’s rights, what is clear is that these victories became possible not only because society came around but because women helped women at the outset.

On Tuesday, The Manila Times zeroed in on this potent phenomenon of “women empowering women” for its annual Women’s Month forum. Returning to the in-person format following the long pandemic, the event saw a full house of women entrepreneurs, CEOs and achievers enjoying a long ladies’ lunch filled with laughter, camaraderie and inspiration.

Held at Seda Residences in Makati City, five outstanding ladies from varied professions passionately shared their success stories and continuing advocacies, all involving and dedicated to the advancement of fellow females while actively fulfilling social responsibilities and participating in nation-building.

These are women who have made lasting and much-needed change for a great many women and vow to keep going for many more.

Today, The Sunday Times Magazine shares inspiring snippets from the five keynote addresses of the “Women Making Change for Women” forum in its continued Women’s Month 2023 cover series.

Margarita ‘Migs’ Nograles

PBA Partylist Representative and lawyer Margarita “Migs” Nograles is a passionate advocate of women in the 19th Congress. A concurrent Assistant Majority Leader, her multiple committee memberships reflect her priorities on population and family relations and women and gender equality, among others.

Growing up, Nograles said she always wanted to be a superwoman — that is, a woman who, based on society’s standards, can excel and cope successfully with the simultaneous demands of a career, marriage and motherhood.

“I think many of us women aspire to be a superwoman because society has made us believe that you need to be one in order to be taken seriously,” Nograles pondered.

While acknowledging that society has come far in empowering women, respecting their rights and cementing gender equality, the lawyer and legislator believe there is still much left to do.

“Despite all our continued efforts —of women’s rights advocates, organizations, allies and government agencies —issues on domestic violence, sexual abuse and discrimination, online exploitation and other hardships that women face daily are still on the rise,” she lamented.

Nograles revealed during her address that despite her background and achievements, she was also a victim of bullying as a teenager and had every reason to believe it was because she was a girl who worked hard and succeeded in anything she put her mind to. Unfortunately, she recalled some of her bullies to be women themselves, which is why this is her battle cry today: “Empowered women should empower other women and help other women find their strength, courage and passion. I have found that women who come together provide more strength than a woman working alone. You should learn how to help push another woman higher and not push them into the ground.”

“With my experience, some remnants of trauma may still be there, but I’m still fortunate because at least my parents and my family and some of my friends didn’t love me less because of my gender and people around me didn’t limit me. In fact, they helped me strive for higher things because being a woman, I believe, is such a unique thing. I think this is something that every woman and girl should believe in that being a woman is a blessing, a gift and an advantage.”

In walking the talk, the congresswoman eagerly shared some of her authored bills that are underway: House Bill No. 1364 or the “Single Person’s Welfare Act;” House Bill No. 2886 or the “Stop Bullying Act of 2022,” which would address all kinds of bullying or cyberbullying; House Bill No. 1365 or the Domestic Violence Abuse Act which would stop domestic violence across all genders.

She also co-authored the expansion of the Violence Against Women and their Children Act and several house resolutions to recognize women athletes.

“These bills and resolutions will not only help inclusivity but will help strengthen and address current problems faced by women in society. But there’s still so much more to be done,” Nograles reiterated.

“So, as a lawyer, part of my advocacy is to make the legal and justice system accessible to the general public. In fact, in our office, we give priority to women, especially those who need legal advice and those who have been abused sexually, emotionally and mentally. There’s a woman’s desk in our office where women can actually go and are given free legal advice and access to several local government units that will help address their problems,” she added.

In the end, Nograles expressed her faith in her fellow women coming together for the cause: “It should not be a new movement. But a now, tomorrow and the day after movement. I hope with our collective efforts as a community, we can create a world where we need not be a superwoman to be heard, to be taken seriously and to lead. I hope we help one another to be the best woman in our field.”

Maria Victoria Españo

Maria Victoria Españo is the chairperson and chief executive officer of Punongbayan & Araullo, a member firm within Grant Thornton International, one of the Philippines’ leading professional services firms providing audit, accounting, advisory, and tax services.

Her talk at the forum delivered the good news from P&A’s “Women in Business Report” for 2022, which found that globally, the percentage of women occupying senior management in the companies they serve has risen to 32 percent – a percent higher a year ago. The Philippines, on the other hand, has seen more significant numbers at 43 percent average in 2021 and 2022 and now at 45 percent in 2023.

“Looking at the top 10 countries that have the most number of women in senior management, the Philippines and Singapore are at the top,” Españo detailed. “In the past, roles such as CEOs, CMOs, COOs and CIOs are primarily dominated by male officers. So it is interesting to see that there is an uptick.”

Españo explained the increasing trend for women to be appointed to senior leadership roles involves three factors.

“First is the external pressure around environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. Globally, companies are becoming more conscious and adaptive in raising ESG goals. Diversity and inclusion would be at the top of companies’ priorities when it comes to addressing social issues. In the Philippines, diversity is also one of the companies’ key priorities,” she began.

“The second factor we see is the increasing number of female CEOs. We see that CEOs are starting to appreciate the value of having diverse perspectives in their leadership team.

“Finally, another factor that is seen to boost the increase in the percentage of women in leadership roles is the hybrid working arrangement that has been adopted by many companies, especially during the last three years because of the pandemic. This has given women the opportunity to balance the requirements, the pressure of being a wife and a mother and complement the work they are doing in the company,” she rounded up.

In conclusion, Españo optimistically predicted that more women are bound to succeed in the workplace so long as employers engage their employees, especially women, in promoting work-life balance and adapting to flexible work arrangements.

Nikki Tang

Nikki Tang built two of the country’s leading providers of dermo-cosmetics and aesthetic devices through determination, hard work and the courage to tap into the market of anti-aging in the Philippines.

As CEO of DMark Beauty and DermAsia Corporations, she is on a mission to help transform women in a world that often tells them they’re not good enough.

Disclosing two key things to overcome insecurities in her address, she cites “embracing that beauty is power” and “how self-love can be a platform for women empowerment.”

“As CEO of these companies, my everyday dealings allow me to actually see beauty as power and cultivating self-love to radically transform our personal experiences. I also collaborate with many skin care specialists, dermatologists and beauty retail and businesses online to develop the best products that women specifically need. We have also established ourselves to be the pioneer of the distribution of dermo-cosmetic and leading medical aesthetic devices in the industry in the country,” she enthused.

According to Tang, beauty is a combination of unique qualities — something that is made of character, intelligence and creativity. She also clarifies that beauty for her is not defined by what is conventionally attractive.

“I want women to realize how beauty can really transform our lives and experiences. When we look good, we feel good, and we do good. When we feel confident and exude confidence, and when we exude confidence, it becomes very authentic for us to unleash our natural beauty. And with that, we tend to chase our passion. We also tend to grow, and we see the best version of ourselves,” she related.

“Feeling beautiful also helps improve our self-perception. You tend to be less critical of yourself, you also tend to be less critical of others, and you tend to approach situations with more compassion and kindness, and people tend to gravitate to you. With that, when people believe in you, it means that your actions and words can move people, so you, then, become agents of change,” she added.

In cultivating self-love, Tang said nourishing the body and mind with the food it needs is essential.

“We need to rehydrate ourselves, our outside appearance. Let’s choose to wear clothes that would also flatter us and find the right shade for our lips. Aside from that, it’s also very important that you fill your mind with positive thoughts that will uplift your spirit.”

Tang added that it is also helpful to engage in activities that promote physical health, establish a good routine for sleep, keep a journal, start the day with prayers, set healthy boundaries, learn to say no, prioritize mental health, celebrate strengths, embrace individuality and to be grateful for blessings big and small.

“These are all the different steps that could help you cultivate self-love, because when you do this, you will really feel empowered and also influence others. Let us all remember that we can create a world where beauty is a force for good.”

Jenny Maaño-Ngai

Jenny Lin Maaño-Ngai, co-founder and president of SunSmart Solar Power Technology Inc. was one of the very first Filipinas in the green energy field named by People Asia Magazine in 2019 as a “Running and ruling woman entrepreneur to inspire today.” A year later, Times featured Ngai as a woman power player, recognizing her solid determination to bring solar energy to 16 million Filipinos who remain unserved and underserved in the country’s most remote areas.

Ngai believes women can become the best versions of themselves when they open up to the possibilities around them, such as those her technology has reached in far-flung communities.

“As a woman, I am motivated by challenges. I faced many challenges and setbacks, especially entering the energy field, where there is a lot of competition. But positioning myself in areas with no power and accessibility, that is where I had no competition, so that’s where I went,” she happily said.

“Not many will attempt to do so but since I’m an adventurer myself, I wanted to experience the fullness of every journey I take, no matter how far the communities we serve,” Ngai continued.

“As a woman, one of my challenges is my husband telling me not to travel. But I would happily say that I have climbed a high mountain, I have gone through far-flung islands, and even though he will say, no, I will be there,” she laughed.

Her determination has since benefited a great many families long deprived of bettering their lives because they had long been deprived of electricity.

“That’s where our power was able to fit in the lifestyle of every Filipino, not just in the urban community, but those who deserve to be uplifted from the bottom up.”

Alongside bringing power to those who need it most, Ngai has also taken the opportunity to bring the issue of climate change to the grassroots.

“With my purpose of energizing the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, which are most affected by climate change today, I believe that women, girls and marginalized communities must be involved in the design and implementation of climate response actions to ensure the equal sharing of benefits, particularly in the local level. Their inclusion in the decision-making process is critical to effective climate action,” she added.

Ngai cites a United Nations 2019 study that indicates increasing women’s representation in the national parliaments leads to more stringent climate change policies that result in lower emissions.

“At the local level, the participation of women in natural resource management is associated with better resource governance and conservation outcomes. Expanding women’s access to productive resources can increase agricultural production and food security because women will always think of the family,” she said.

With women leadership in the workplace more often associated with increased transparency around climate impact, Ngai pointed out that higher percentages of women on corporate boards positively correlate with the disclosure of carbon emission information.

“Talk to a woman at a corporate level. They will be the first ones to voice out the need to eliminate carbon emissions. They will be the ones to share thoughts of protecting the environment by addressing sustainability.”

Agnes Gervacio

An engineer by education, Agnes Gervacio’s passion for tech and gender inclusivity happily found a home in Connected Women. She is CEO of this social enterprise that digitally provides flexible, remote work for women from disadvantaged communities.

According to Gervacio, an enormous number of women in the country still need to benefit from the advancement of science, technology and innovation, as well as information and communications technology or ICT. And while it is generally believed that women cannot code, explaining the predominance of men in this field, her work has proven otherwise time and time again.

“In Connected Women, we are a community of 100,000 women from all over the Philippines. In the past six years, we have actually trained 55,000 women in areas of computer literacy and related subjects in partnership with Meta for the past six years as well as Microsoft. And in the area of artificial intelligence, we have about 1,000 women, and I am so inspired every time I think about this because one of our super annotators is a fisherman’s wife,” she happily shared.

“She has not worked in a formal environment, but as soon as she raised her hand during the pandemic when we launched our program, Elevate AIDA, she became a data animator. I cannot repeat the speed and the accuracy that she can do, and it shows you that women, as soon as they are given the opportunity and a chance, they look at it not just another gig, but that’s a second chance in life.”

While she acknowledges the importance of equality, Gervacio also believes there is a need to focus on equity.

“Shouldn’t we be talking about equity so that everybody’s on an even footing from Day 1? Shouldn’t we be thinking about — not just equality — but equity for everyone? I know it’s a very hard question. And sometimes, people think about it from the standpoint of, ‘What commercial impact will this have on my business?’”

She cited a study in 2016 that found 5 million women unemployed because of their multiple roles as wives and caregivers to their children and even their aging parents. It is this disparity that Connected Women sought to change.

Projects like the newly relaunched elevate AIDA (Artificial Intelligence, Data Annotation) is one of the most effective programs the social enterprise pursues toward the goal of equity.

“We train our women in order for them to be able to participate in a flexible work environment. I think what sets us apart — our business model — is the fact that we put them in jobs. But during training, we pay the ladies, and we are socially responsible because we pay even our community-based ladies Metro Manila wages,” Gervacio concluded.

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