Thursday, 25 October 2012 14:25
During the Soroptimist International of Zamboanga
Induction of Officers and Turn-Over Ceremony
Officers of Soroptimist International of Zamboanga City and guests at the presidential table, SI directors and advisers, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, let me congratulate the newly-installed officers of Soroptimist International of Zamboanga City for 2012-2014. I also want to congratulate all the women who make up this gutsy bunch of beautiful ladies who came up with tonight’s theme, “Women at Their Best Helping Other Women to Be Their Best” – because it’s authentic, down-to-earth, and poses a real challenge.
The question is how, what, where, when, why? Offhand, I’d say that there are dozens of ways to help. Perhaps, the idea is coming up with projects and activities for skills trainings, scholarships, women’s centers and the like. If so, I think that first, the parameters must be set. I searched for data on women in Zamboanga, how many are unemployed and unemployable, how many are single mothers, what is the number of those who’ve attained at least a secondary level education, and so on. But there is no such baseline data. So, I think that before anything else, existing collateral data can be collated to come up with a clearer picture of the women’s sector.
“Women helping women” is a daunting challenge, but to give it more than just lip service requires a lot of brainstorming - to come up with quantifiable objectives and doable action plans. But certainly, I am confident that with the caliber of the women here tonight, there’s absolutely no doubt that the Soroptimist International of Zamboanga City is more than up to the task. But I’ll leave the actions plans and projects to you.
Personally, here’s my two cent’s worth on tonight’s theme.
Each of us wants to help, to be of help, but honestly, how many of us can spare the time, energy and resources? Many organizations come up with projects – a lot of seminars, parades every now and then in celebration of women’s month, etc. - but in the long run, how much was actually achieved in terms of improving the lives of women?
Of course, we appreciate the effort, but to my mind, the women’s sector has budged a mere inch. In other words, I am saying that while projects and parades are fine, they are essentially not that effective. Maybe, we’re neither better nor worse, but definitely, I think it may be time to try another tack – one perhaps that puts the condition, aspirations and needs of women in the context of the community as a whole, rather than as a segregated sector.
Let me expound.
Women’s needs are economic, social and legal.
As a lawyer, I am energized by the fact that many women today are not only aware of their rights, but have mustered the courage to fight for their rights. Women have come to court seeking redress against domestic violence, psychological abuse and support for themselves and their children. I’ve seen countless women try to pick up the pieces of failed marriages after annulment, rediscover themselves and move on to better lives for themselves and their children. In my own way, I believe that I have helped these women.
Now, let me be a little controversial here, but indulge me, because I believe the time has come for us to accept the fact that many women are trapped in destructive marital relations, and that one of the ways we can help these women is to campaign for yes, a divorce bill. It’s about time – because it’s being realistic, practical and attuned to the 21st century aspirations of women.
The signs of the times are also alarming. Women by their sex alone are vulnerable, and many women today are victims – of domestic violence, human trafficking and cybersex. Many of them are young, come from the poorest and remotest communities, and with the least education. We can take an active stance against the evils posed by the unscrupulous, the opportunists, the vultures in our society – by being alert, by reporting abuse, and by giving guidance to the youth.
On another level, let me again be controversial. Those among us in the medical, nursing and related professions can help countless women by campaigning for the Reproductive Health Bill. I see no reason whatsoever, why we should not make contraceptive methods and devises available to women. I will not argue on the point of morality or religion, but on the right of free choice. Women should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to avail of these contraceptive methods.
We see poverty all around, and yet, we still do not dare acknowledge the simple fact that much of this poverty can be alleviated simply by limiting our population growth. And nobody can dispute the fact that the brunt of poverty is felt more by women – the mothers who would have to struggle morning till night to scrape up enough to feed hungry children or mothers who have to suffer the pain of leaving their homes and their children to go abroad to work as domestics to send them to school.
To my mind, we can help women – substantially and in the long term by giving them that right of choice - by supporting the reproductive health bill.
For those among us in the public sector, in government positions of influence, I say, let us push for more economic growth in this town, that will benefit everyone, including women. With no offense meant, and with due respect to all, I believe that economically, we are just coasting along, while cities all around us are booming and forging ahead. For the last several years, there’s been a stark absence of that sense of dynamism, or excitement, of that adrenaline rush in the business sector. On the other hand, those businesses that survive are, as I said, also merely coasting along. Our infrastructure, not to mention our peace and order, does not inspire, - nay, it discourages, investments. Women will take up the economic challenge, with or without seminars or trainings, when they feel and know that there is an opportunity out there.
Let me be specific: We need more economic opportunities, better infrastructure, a broader economic base. Let’s start with roads to open up commercial areas, provide better access to markets, and of course, decongest traffic. We need to upgrade our markets and provide real marketing opportunities for small-scale, home-based enterprises and village products. We need to provide financial incentives like tax breaks and less regulation. We need to promote our city, people and products, not with useless slogans and sisterhood agreements, which I think are just junkets anyway, but with trade missions within the country and abroad.
We need a policy that will entice, not put off people, including women, from setting up businesses – with adequate support and full assistance from government, not with ever increasing taxes and fees and too much red tape.
I can go on and on, but I believe, we have to first have the guts to admit that the challenges of surviving economically in a stagnant economy are difficult enough to bear, and would be insurmountable without responsive and forward-looking economic policies.
And of course, we need to build the skills and capabilities of our women. And by skills, I do not mean only skills for handicrafts, food processing and the like. I dream of the day, when we can have a one-stop training center, open day in and day out, free of charge, accessible to anyone, that can provide the skills training, and at the same time, managerial training to women - because we have to move one notch higher than just providing technical skills. Women need to know not just how to do food processing, but how to market them, manage a manufacturing enterprise, compute overhead, cost of sales and loan amortizations. In short, they should be trained to run a business.
From a personal standpoint, I think that all of us, individually can, even without a single seminar, inspire women to want to be better, to dream beyond the horizon, to aim higher, reach further, to achieve more. This strength of spirit, this courage to dream can be inspired, and when women are inspired to become better, they will help themselves become better, and achieve their own dreams. I believe that this self-help mentality can be inculcated, and we can all do our share, by our competence and confidence, to make this an integral part of our women’s social psyche. In our part of this world, we are fortunate that women actually enjoy many rights and have opportunities for growth, and when the desire to become better is from within, the battle is half won.
Finally, I want to express my sincerest appreciation to President Daisy and all the members of this prestigious organization, for inviting me to speak tonight. As I said, I am very impressed by the choice of tonight’s theme, and more so, by the heartfelt willingness I sense among all of you tonight – to reach out to other women – and be a part of their personal and professional evolvement into better persons.
I understand that the word “Soroptimist” comes from the latin “soror” for sister, as in sorority + optimist. So, this organization is made up of sisters who are rightfully, because of their individual and collective achievements, optimistic about life.
But why help other women? To answer, I will quote Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of the great aviator Charles Lindbergh and a renowned author in her own right.
She said, “We may be but grains of sand in the beach of time, but in the hearts of those whose lives we’ve touched, we are eternal.”
With that, I wish everyone the best.
Good evening and God Bless.
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