Everything I learned at the Women’s Day Summit 2019, part 1

I was so privileged to be invited to the International Women’s Day Summit yesterday! I learned about so many women, and so many different concepts, and so many different ways women are exploited and empowered.

The Women’s Day Summit that I attended was organized by the Office of the Vice President Leni Robredo, SPARK! Philippines, the Embassy of Sweden, the Austrian Embassy Manila, the United Nations Population Fund, the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and Havas Ortega.

I’ve attended a lot of conferences before, on sexual and reproductive health and rights, women’s issues, youth conferences, children’s conferences. I’ve heard quite a lot of people speak, listened in on a lot of lectures, attended a lot of panels. I was so happy that many of the women–and men–speaking yesterday were people I had not encountered before.

First, it was lovely to be greeted with the support of male allies, such as Ambassador Harald Fries of Sweden, who talked about his country’s Feminist government and feminist foreign policy. Then we heard from Victoria Garchitorena, Founding Trustee of Samahan ng mga Pilipina para sa Reporma at Kaunlaran.

That’s my vice president.

The keynote speech was given by Vice President Leni Robredo, and it always makes me happy to hear her speak. She opened with a quote from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez–another favorite woman!–who said in her campaign video, “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.” But she did anyway — and won. (Watch the campaign video here.)

Robredo said many things, and I wish I could remember them all, but she spoke some truths that hurt: that women are held up to such impossible standards, while so many mediocre men are allowed to lead (not the first time this week I heard such a statement!) Society is still kinder to men.

But there are things we can do. We can empower fellow women in different ways. “Economic empowerment is the first step towards real empowerment,” Robredo said, quite a lot like how my friend Ana Santos always insists that financial independence is true independence. “For every woman who is able to work, one family can double their income,” Robredo added.

She talked about the ways her office is working to uplift and empower women, saying “This is no longer the time for fear. This is the time to make a stand.” As if commenting on a recent literary war, she quoted Lang Leav, “There is a gentle rage simmering inside of her, she will nurture it and let it grow.” (Read the full poem here. )

I don’t know if there’s anything gentle abut my rage, but it’s certainly simmering!

I am fighting for the women who don’t know they have a choice.

The first panel of the day was about ending violence against women, featuring Dr. Sylvia Claudio, Amina Rasul, Maria Roda Cisnero, and Kat Alano. It was moderated by Hans Montenegro, who is apparently an advocate against sexual violence. I found out later why.

UPDATE: Watch the panel in this Facebook video by the Office of the Vice President!

I think the panel was an hour and a half long, and it was hard to take notes and to keep listening. But there were many insights from all the panelists.

Kat Alano talked about rape culture, and how we have to decide what is acceptable and not. She talked about sexist and racist jokes on old TV shows like Friends, and how it was okay then, but it would never work now. She talked about misogynist uncles and their awful sexist jokes, and how her family would get angry at her for calling them out. She talked about getting drugged and raped by a local celebrity at age 19, when she was trying to make it in show business, and how she didn’t have the courage to come out about the attack until 2014, when three other women publicly accused the same person.

Apparently Hans Montenegro had suffered a similar sexual attack, and like Kat, it took him years to be able to talk about it. It was mind-boggling for me–you read about men being victims too, but it was so jarring to have one right in front of you, talking about his experience.

Amina Rasul talked about violence against women and girls in Muslim Mindanao. She talked about how Sharia law actually gave Muslim women many rights, long before Christian women enjoyed the same rights, but fundamentalist interpretations have led to a very strict, very patriarchal practice of the religion.

Sylvia Claudio talked about a conversation with her husband on why men rape. Her husband talked about men in beer gardens and strip clubs, and the expectation of getting what you want because it’s what women are expected to do in those places. She talked about the power of men to call out other men, and the ways in which men can use male privilege to protect and empower women.

Maria Roda Cisnero talked about the challenges of gender justice in the Philippines, and how desperately we need more lawyers, social workers, child psychologists, to protect women and children, to bring their cases to court, to see justice served.

There were two other panels in the afternoon! And so many performances by amazing women.

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