How can we create a more gender-balanced world? Insights from CNN Philippines’ second women’s summit

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CNN Philippines’ second Women’s Summit entitled, “Taking Charge: #BalanceforBetter” aims to celebrate women and their individualities, and to further deepen the dialogue on gender equality and empowerment. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The modern woman, in many ways, exists differently in our heads. Often though, it alludes to a version of perfection on who she must be, leading to a lot of definitive insecurities that undermines our strength and capabilities. This creates a need for a conversation that gives importance to women being able to recognize their power and using it to amplify their voices. CNN Philippines’ second Women’s Summit entitled, “Taking Charge: #BalanceforBetter” aims to celebrate women and their individualities, and to further deepen the dialogue on gender equality and empowerment.

The speakers relayed their experiences and wisdom regarding their areas of expertise, and for women in the workplace, taking leadership was a consistent issue that women struggle with. For the first panel, Merlee Jayme, Chairmom and CEO of advertising company Dentsu-Jayme Sayfu explains, “In my industry, women are hesitant to become a leader because they know that this industry requires a lot of time. If you really wanna go on top, you have to push yourself like hell. And they want to have a family, they want to be engaged, they want to have children. They automatically think that it will be tough on them to do that.”

What hinders women from stepping up is usually motherhood — the idea that you have to pick one between career and family. “I’ve met so many mothers who decided not to pursue a career in favor of raising a family,” said Pauline Juan, executive director of the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM). “A lot of the struggle that comes from working mothers are from the guilt that you’re not giving your all to your family.”

Evidently, there are still issues within feminism that need more light. Among these matters are inclusivity, underrepresentation, and workplace harassment. Cecile Dominguez-Yujuico, CEO and founder of Evident, talks about acknowledging your privilege. “When we talk about women’s participation and success in the workplace, I think in the Philippines, we also have to layer it with challenges in inequality when it comes to socioeconomic background. If somebody comes from a position of privilege, those barriers may not be the same as someone, for example, who wasn’t able to finish high school.”

There are also efforts of combating harassment, and in the case of Dominguez-Yujuico’s company, it is implementing gender sensitivity workshops. Jayme adds that her agency created a readily available app and chatbot that assists an individual in case of a harassment incident.

Dominguez-Yujuico also encourages young women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as there is still a considerable imbalance when it comes to the ratio of men and women in the said department. The panel closed with the speakers echoing the sentiments that we know but bears repeating — work hard, take charge, and lift each other up.

Abba Nappa, restaurateur and co-founder of The Moment Group emphasizes the importance of camaraderie, saying, “Find good people to live your life with. Know who are the people that will make you become a better person because who you grow up with — no matter how strong you are at the beginning — will largely be affected by the context of your surroundings and who you chose to hang out with.”

Pauline Juan adds, “Find something you are good at and be the best at that. Work hard at it. I believe that if you work hard and present excellent results, that is when people notice you. That is when you build credibility and is able to find your voice.”

The second panel asks the nature of why these imbalances are created, and how we can raise young women who are able to recognize and act upon these inequalities. Dr. Michele Alingay, psychologist, guidance counselor, lecturer and author highlights the power of words and labeling. “We have to be non-gender biased [for this]. These are the unconscious things that our parents have been conditioned culturally — that there are certain things for boys and certain things for girls.”

Giving children the right to choose is essential in their capability to stand up for who they are. Marla Darwin, co-founder of Grrrl Gang Manila, talks about how crucial small, nuanced conversations are to children. “You start in little increments and it becomes a lifelong thing. There is no playbook.” She adds, “You start chasing things because of values. When you lead with interest and values and do away with the playbook, everything starts opening up.”

However, as mentioned in the first panel, inequality plays a vital role in how imbalance works, and how divisive social class can be. Jaton Zulueta, executive director of AHA Learning Center points out this concern. “The gender bias is more prevalent when you go down the lower classes. It was interesting because in conversations like these, having attended the session this morning and seeing so many empowered women, I kept wondering, is there a venue in the Philippines where we can have the same conference but with people of lower classes. Isn’t that a voice that should be heard?”

At the Q&A with the audience members, common misconceptions were also dismantled. One case is the notion of the effects of letting boys and girls play with toys that are traditionally deemed not for their gender, thus, making them gay or lesbian. Alignay counters, saying, “The malice is not with the children, it's with the adults. There should be equal opportunity for play.”

Another is the issue of chivalry, as one question raised was how men are not “gentlemen” anymore. Darwin comments, “The idea of feminism is that we would extend the same courtesy to everybody. So when a man wants to open the door for you and you accept it, it’s because you would open the door for him too.”

The discussion ends with a clear-cut message of finding the worth in each woman, and how we should always make choices out of love and not out of fear. Darwin concludes, “If you are a woman, follow the woman’s story. If you follow the story, you will be able to piece together solutions to our problems in this world.”

After the final keynote by CNN International correspondent Paula Hancocks, attendees explored the marketplace in the Samsung Hall lobby. The mini market featured a number of brands run by women entrepreneurs, such as wellness brand Neutra Organics, and bags and accessories shop MCV designs, and companies dedicated to uplifting women makers and artisans such as Akaba Ltd. Design Co., Likhaya by Virlanie, Silnag, and more.

Catch the full special presentation of CNN Philippines’ “Taking Charge #BalanceforBetter” on Friday, March 29, at 8 p.m. Watch the Female Leaders panel (featuring Merlee Jayme, Abba Napa, Cecile Dominguez-Yujuico and Pauline Juan) and the Bringing Up Strong Women panel (featuring Dr. Michelle Alignay, Marla Darwin, and Jaton Zulueta) on March 30, April 1, and April 3 from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. Meanwhile, the keynotes of Sec. Berna Romulo-Puyat and Paula Hancocks will be aired on March 31 and April 2 from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.