How To Be A Woman: A message for my sisters everywhere

Published March 7, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Senator Risa Hontiveros

I grew up with women all around me my whole life. Most of childhood and adolescence was spent among women. I went to St. Scholastica’s College, Manila, an all-girls school where girls always had space, always had a voice.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros (Senator Risa Hontiveros / Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Risa Hontiveros (Senator Risa Hontiveros / Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)

There wasn’t a stage we weren’t allowed to speak or stand on.

It was in St. Scho where I learned everything women can be. We discussed sexism, but I had never experienced it. There was no such place in our school or in our home for such a culture.

But the strong woman’s spirit that was also fostered by my child- hood innocence would only last so long.

The ‘real world’ and growing up would change that.

The world I was emerging from was so different from the world of boys.

There were certain etiquette boys were not taught—how to be a lady, how to eat, sit with your legs crossed, don’t laugh too loud, don’t speak without being acknowledged, and so on.

As I moved from high school to college and was more exposed to men, womanhood seemed to mean that I would have to always defend who I was, to take up space assertively if I was ever to keep it.

Women had to out-polite each other—who could step aside more times for someone else.

But it was also as clear as day that boys were not conditioned to do the same.

They never sacrificed space; they owned all of it. The world was theirs. I grew up among women. I quickly had to learn that in the ‘real world’ we women had to bury ourselves to adjust to a vicious & patriarchal narrative.

Women had to play men’s games.

For a while, I felt that all my life I had to compromise.

I’ll be honest with you, defending your own rights, and being polite and giving way gets tiring. I am tired.

It was just the generation of my own mother that women were expected to be homemakers and nothing more.

Today, I am both a homemaker and a senator, and it is not out of the ordinary.

Women in power are becoming ordinary— which is exactly what we want.

Women anywhere we want to be should be the norm. We are athletes, politicians, doctors, and scientists. We are whatever we want to be.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Philippines closed 80% of the gender gap in economic opportunity, with women receiving proper compensation and overtaking men in leadership roles.

The Philippines is one of only four countries to achieve this feat.

Filipinas are also reported to healthily live 5 years longer than men; there are also more women enrolled in secondary and tertiary education than men.

Women have come so far.

But there is still so far to go.

Just last year, there were reports that a 9-year-old girl was gang raped by 6 men in Cebu. A little girl whose world consists of school, friendship and games was violently taken by 6 adult men who forced themselves on her young undeveloped body.

This the climax of horror in which anyone thinks they own the world, in which they think there is no one to share it with.

The Philippines takes a lot of pride in being one of the most gender equal countries in the world; but being one of the most gender equal countries is not the same as real gender equality.

Where rape remains acquitted, where sexist slurs are seen as good fun, where violence is seen as ‘boys just being boys’, there is no real equality.

The WEF flagged our significant drop in female representation in the cabinetto 10% this year from 25% in 2017, while representation in the parliament slipped to 28% at the beginning of 2019.

Losing power in political positions means that we are losing power in a realm that shapes where our country, our culture and values are headed. We dropped from the Top 8 in Gender Equality to Top 16 in just a year.

This is the first time we ranked lower than 10th in the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index.

It is an alarming reminder that the rights of women were never freely handed to us, they were fought for. Our mothers, grand- mothers and ancestors fought the violent and painful battles for us; and sadly, when we let our guard down, we can lose the freedoms that took centuries to fight for.

The politeness of being a lady includes an insurmountable silence; that being talked over is something we too must apologize for.

Even in rape and sexual assault, many women think, “Ok, I’ll just take it.” But we shouldn’t have to take it. The cost of standing up for our- selves shouldn’t have to be great. But unfortunately, it is. What will it take for the world to change?

It takes bravery— Like the bravery of the women who were sexually harassed and chose the possibility of ridicule and humiliation or loss of livelihood in front of the public so that others could come forward as well.

After being in public service for more than a decade and a half, I have realized that one of the most important duties I have as a legislator, as a woman in power, is really to make space for other women; to extend the stage gifted to me for all women.

The only truth in the politeness we were conditioned to practice comes from the understanding of something men do not: That real power comes when you use your space to share with others.

That real power comes when people come together. The Sisterhood is the real power of being a woman.

We must do it together as we have for many centuries. The spirit of the Sisterhood comes from strengthening the collective with every word we utter, for every line drawn, for every foot we put down.

Sisters are for celebrating or for when the world has beaten you down.

We come together to make our voice louder, we come together in our sadness, in our pain, we come together to recharge and to start again and again and again.

We move forward together; and we don’t look back.

Be a Woman. Be a Sister. Be whoever you are. The world belongs to us, too.