Aquino: Women are better partners for inclusive growth

FOR WOMEN. President Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his speech during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy 2015: Public-Private Dialogue on Women and the Economy at the Reception Hall on Thursday September 17, 2015. Photo by Joseph Vidal / Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

FOR WOMEN. President Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his speech during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy 2015: Public-Private Dialogue on Women and the Economy at the Reception Hall on Thursday September 17, 2015.

Photo by Joseph Vidal / Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III hailed Filipino women as better partners for his administration's push for inclusive growth.

In his keynote address at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) public-private dialogue on women and the economy on Thursday, September 17, the President said that because it is clear that women are the better partners for inclusive growth, "then it behooves government to provide even more opportunities to women entrepreneurs."

He cited the government's Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s (TESDA) partnership with Coca-Cola for the TESDA-STAR or Sari-Sari Store Training and Access to Resources Program. "Sari-sari" or variety stores are very small, neighborhood retail stores in the Philippines.

"Through this initiative, we are training women sari-sari store owners in bookkeeping, inventory management, accounting, and other disciplines – essentially helping them to professionalize and formalize their approach toward typically informal enterprises," he said.

He added that the women under the TESDA-STAR program are also being taught to maximize the utility of their profits.

"From December of 2011 to June of this year, this program has produced 33,315 graduates, with the goal of eventually training around 200,000 Filipinas," Aquino said.

He also shared a success story of a woman who used to earn only P800 ($17.19) a day, but after going through the program, her daily earnings reached P4,000 ($85.94).

"This is, in fact, equivalent to my salary before all the necessary deductions, and I assume that she earns it with considerably less stress," Aquino quipped, eliciting laughter from the audience.

Women's strength

Aquino also said that he himself is no stranger to the strength of women, citing Gabriela Silang who led a revolt after her husband’s assassination; Melchora Aquino or Tandang Sora, who put up a refuge for wounded soldiers during yet another revolution against the Spaniards.

"Of course, a more recent – and much more personal – example is my mother (the late President Corazon C. Aquino), who I watched firsthand as she courageously took a stand against a vicious dictator, and led the country in reclaiming our democracy," he said.

The President also shared another story. In 1984, he met this woman in Cebu who always joined their rallies, displaying passion in the struggle against the dictatorship, literally asking for Ferdinand Marcos' head.

"Another thing that set her apart was that she always carried a basket with her, containing clean underwear, a toothbrush, some instant coffee, and other essential items. It led me to ask her, 'Why did you bring all these to a political rally?' Her answer: She was ready to be arrested anytime," Aquino narrated.

"That woman’s dedication has burned itself into my memory as one of the clearest examples of conviction for one’s beliefs," he added.

Aquino also cited examples of women who are helping push the administration's inclusive growth economic platform, like Marife Zamora, chairperson of Convergys Philippines Services Corporation.

Aquino said Zamora offered to join the government to help with the reform efforts. "I said that maybe she can help even more by staying in her sector and aiding the economy by expanding their workforce."

"Now, 5 years into my term, their company is providing – not 30,000 jobs – but 60,000 jobs to Filipinos," he said. "Her company’s performance makes me very glad that I declined her offer to move to government," he added.

The President also highlighted that he appointed a good number of women of "unquestionable moral standing to key positions in government, so that they may enact much needed reforms in the various sectors."

He named Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales; Secretary Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice; Secretary Dinky Soliman of the Department of Social Welfare and Development; Secretary Janette Garin of the Department of Health; Secretary Lilia de Lima of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority; Commissioner Kim Henares of the Bureau of Internal Revenue; former head of the Commission on Audit Grace Pulido-Tan, among many others.

"Over the last 5 years, these women have bullishly pursued necessary reforms and have refused to back down, even in the face of those with great power and influence, and deeply-entrenched interests," he said.

Aquino added that these women are pillars of his administration’s reform agenda, and they are living proof to young people who wish to enter public service that they will not be defined by their gender, "but rather, by their integrity, their work ethic, and their willingness to serve."

Women as superior

The President added that women are seen as superior in many aspects, including prudent budgeting, and focusing on the advancement of the family as a whole.

"That is precisely why we are here: to express our collective belief that harnessing the talents and potential of all women can bring about inclusive progress sooner rather than later," he said.

He added that the contributions of women to Philippine society have, of course, gone beyond the public sector and have helped spur the country's economic growth these past few years.

Aquino said that according to the Department of Trade and Industry, 54% of all registered trade names are owned by women. The Asian Institute of Management also conducted a survey that revealed that about 63% of managers and owners of businesses are women.

One major sector they are involved in are micro, small, and medium enterprises, which accounts for 63.7% of total employment.

"Seeing these numbers, one has to wonder, myself included, if perhaps in 10 years time, gender equality in the Philippines will be about men’s emancipation, and no longer women’s emancipation," he said.

Congress has also passed laws that expand the horizon of opportunities for women, like repealing in 2011 the antiquated provisions of the Labor Code that prohibit women from working at night.

He also added that the World Economic Forum report sees the Philippines as the only Asian country in the top 10 in terms of closing the gender gap.

"But make no mistake: Our performance in this index will not stop us from pursuing even more progress. Women still face a number of pressing issues, and the issue of gender equality calls for continuous reflection and corresponding action," Aquino said. 

Thus, he called for a creation of a truly inclusive society.

"Rest assured, the Philippines will remain your partner in expanding opportunities for women, and I am hopeful that your discussions today will continue to move us closer to a world where no one is left behind," he told APEC women and economy dialogue participants. –