“When feminism became an international buzz word in 1975, my mother was already living it for at least three decades – training her four sons to respect girls and share in reproductive chores; educating her five girls and driving them to non-traditionally female careers; teaching her kids that independence is power; and making sure that people around us breathed the air of self-empowerment. At the age of 11, I understood that being a female was a source of vulnerability while I was fearlessly resisting a rape attempt by intruders. And as I witnessed other girls dealt with the daily onslaughts of discrimination and sexual harassment, I knew something was seriously wrong in the way females are treated by society. It was not an accident, therefore, that for 35 years, I found myself in the maelstrom of women’s struggle for gender equality. I was so privileged to be in a circle of exceptionally brilliant, brave and distinguished women in the Philippines, Afghanistan and Cambodia who work unceasingly to make life a little bit better for women. Our collective struggles taught me that being a woman is about living to the fullest as a human being, where we need to be sensitive to the oppression that our fellow women and girls experience; build alliances to achieve gender transformative results; and invest in the development of a new breed of young women and men who would sustain our campaign through the next generations. It is about doing what we can to help change norms, perspectives, policies, laws, and practices and helping obtain a fair share of opportunities, resources and voice for women. It is about transcending even the most formidable barriers to demonstrate that we love and care for each other as sisters. It is about providing young women with skills to deconstruct romanticism and become smarter in their own relationships and choices. Most importantly, I see it as a way of demonstrating that self-fulfillment is possible for all, women and men alike, and it comes from a life of equality, empowerment and freedom.”
– Ermelita Valdevilla, 61, has worked for women’s empowerment for her whole professional life. She is a former Executive of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women and stays behind some of its greatest successes, including passage of the legislation on the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law. She later worked in various high-ranking positions in UN Woman Afghanistan and Cambodia.