The great creative force
LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie (The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2013 - 12:00am

A former US Governor-General of the Philippines, Leonard Wood is famous — perhaps infamous — for saying that “the Filipino woman is the best ‘man’ in the Philippines”. The 1921 statement, in which he described women as “the great creative force” could have been a rallying cry for women. If last week’s elections are anything to go by, it is being taken up.  Female candidates took three of the top five positions in the senatorial ballot.  But that wasn’t the Governor’s point.  At a time when women still did not have the vote in the Philippines, Wood’s tribute was to the behind-the-scenes role of women in building the home and keeping the family together.

Times and attitudes have changed since then. The number of women in leading roles in the Philippines sets the pace for many other democracies. But what gives me wider cause for optimism is the role of women in grassroots governance.  The recent election showcased a number of positive examples.

The first was the sheer number of women involved in running the election process, as witnessed by my Embassy’s election monitors. This perhaps reflects the number of women who choose to become educators.  But is inspiring nonetheless. The second was a young lady whom our team witnessed monitoring the voting in a part of the country which has endured a history of electoral violence and serious irregularities. Our team witnessed some significant problems – in a generally free and fair election. But the lady was resolute and did her duty.  While international observers are afforded a degree of protection and return to their homes, this lady was holding people accountable and taking a stand in her own community. She, and others like her, deserve our respect.

The third example comes from a group of women who worked on a project in which the British Embassy partnered with local governments and NGO WeGovern. The project was to champion implementation of the 2009 Magna Carta for Women. Over 200 women joined workshops to explore participation in politics and governance in their communities. 

The experience of one of the participants is illuminating. High-school educated, she was the main bread winner of the family, holding down four to five jobs in the informal sector. In other words, every inch Leonard Wood’s “best man”.  But in another way she was not so typical, because she had also held a public role as barangay secretary. Appalled at the corruption she saw, she spoke up and, perhaps not surprisingly, she lost her position.  Beaten, but not defeated, she sought other ways to be active in her community, including as a poll watcher during the recent elections. 

When her community encouraged her to run for a formal position, she was reluctant at first. She felt she wasn’t educated enough and was too poor to run a campaign.  However, she has since decided to run for barangay captain in October.  What changed her mind was the courage gained from the workshops and the network of support she could count on. 

Our friend had long dreamt of progress for her community but she had been put off by what she had been conditioned to see as her own limitations. Thanks to groups like We Govern, more women are now seeing past their perceived limitations and finding their voice to lead their communities towards change.  Her story is not unique. My hope is that such women can indeed be Governor Wood’s “great creative force”, not only in the home, but at every level of Philippine society.

(Stephen Lillie is British Ambassador to the Philippines)

 

 

 

 

BRITISH AMBASSADOR BRITISH EMBASSY GENERAL OF THE PHILIPPINES GOVERNOR WOOD LEONARD WOOD MAGNA CARTA STEPHEN LILLIE WE GOVERN WOMEN
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