Women today
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - November 15, 2019 - 12:00am

People who know her are familiar with her story: as a five-year-old, Vicki Belo recalls being bullied by classmates for being an adopted child. The bullies asked why her parents gave her away: was it because she was ugly and fat?

“I cried,” Belo admitted before the audience at the “Women Today: Innovators and Agents of the Future” summit organized by The Philippine STAR together with Globe Telecom and the Women Influence Community Forum last Tuesday at the Marriott hotel in Pasay.

“But also I said I would spend my life making people beautiful,” she added to applause from the audience.

How exactly did she intend to do this? She found her calling when she had a serious outbreak of acne at 11 years old (possibly when puberty started).

At the time, she said, the common method of getting rid of acne was simply to “prick, prick, prick” the pimple. She went to a dermatologist, who also employed the “prick, prick, prick” method. What pricked her interest, however, was the long line of patients: she realized there was a big demand for skin care services.

Right then, the woman whose surname has been turned into a verb for self-improvement in this country – “Belo-fied” – decided she would become a dermatologist.

Now fabulously wealthy and looking good at 63, Vicki Belo has the last laugh on the bullies. Truly, success is the best revenge.

“I am so blessed that my works of art are walking around,” she said to laughter as she looked at certain persons in the Marriott ballroom.

Belo disclosed that 90 percent of dermatologists in the Philippines are women – far above the global average of 70 percent – and that her gender was never a problem as she pursued her professional goal.

Tim Yap, one of the few male panelists at the summit, said the idea that women are inferior to men might have originated from the Biblical story about Eve being created out of the rib of Adam.

“We should embrace our strengths. The differences are exciting. God made us different but equal,” Belo said.

                                                                              *      *      *

There may be no glass ceiling in Philippine dermatology, or in my profession for that matter. But this is not the case in many other fields.

Gender equity is one area where the Philippines has consistently ranked among the 10 best in the world, according to surveys. Women in our country have become president, chief justice, lawmaker, local government executive, soldier, cop, combat pilot, weightlifter, Grab driver – you name it.

The final speaker at the Women Today gathering was Vice President Leni Robredo, who talked about parenting and what a mother can bring to the drug war. “The role that requires the most courage, the most resolve, and most strength, is being a mother,” she said.

So it was interesting to find out where the glass ceiling still exists in our society.

Sen. Grace Poe pointed out that only seven of the 24 senators are women. Only 28.6 percent of the members of the House of Representatives and less than 20 percent of local government executives are women.

Cultural Center of the Philippines chair Margie Moran-Floirendo noted that there has yet to be a female national artist for visual arts. Where is the recognition for painter Paz Paterno? For Anita Magsaysay-Ho, the only female among the “13 Moderns” in Philippine arts?

Even in literature, Margie Moran noted, Jose Rizal’s female contemporary, poet Gregoria de Jesus did not receive the same recognition as the men. Few people are familiar with 19th century Vigan poet Leona Florentino, considered the “mother of Philippine women’s literature,” or Paz Marquez Benitez, who wrote the first Filipino modern English language short story, “Dead Stars,” which was published in 1925 in the Philippine Herald.

The 1973 Miss Universe reminded the gathering of mostly women that even in many countries, female writers used to adopt male pseudonyms so their works would be taken seriously.

Several women have been honored as national artists for the performing arts. But even in the field of dance, there was a time when all ballet instructors were male because they were considered to be physically stronger for the rigors of ballet and generally more skillful.

This is according to ballerina Liza Macuja-Elizalde, who supported a children’s ballet school with women as instructors.

Macuja-Elizalde, another panelist at the women’s forum, debunked the notion that male ballet dancers performed better than the females.

Where a formidable glass ceiling remains is in the global advertising industry. Merlee Cruz Jayme, who describes herself as “chairmom” and “chief creative officer” at ad agency Dentsu Jayme Syfu, said around the world, there are only eight women holding top positions in the industry. She said this could be due to the long hours required of the job.

She remembers working in Japan, where the top management consisted entirely of men, and the top floor of the corporate building where the men held office was called “the floor of the gods.”

For women empowerment around the world, many challenges remain. But the past decades have shown that it’s possible for women to take their place on the gods’ floor.

“We can create masterpieces,” Margie Moran-Floirendo said. “Women can create. Women can lead.”

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