If you’re looking for an icon to look up to this International Women’s Month, Tingog Sinirangan party-list Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez might just catch your eye.
Literally and figuratively.
You can blame her beauty-queen looks and aura for this, but this former Binibining Pilipinas International titleholder and Miss International 1996 PH bet has the looks, the brains, and the unwavering commitment to her constituents that make her a fitting example of an empowered woman.
Coincidentally, the name of the party-list she represents translates to “voice” in English, certainly making her the voice not only of her people in Eastern Visayas but also of young girls and women in her capacity as chairperson of the House Committee on Welfare Of Children.
In celebration of IWM 2020, Manila Standard talked with the trailblazing woman legislator, dear wife of House Majority Leader Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin Romualdez, and loving mother of four.
MS: For you, what is the essence of being a woman?
YMR: I think being a woman is more than just following a checklist of what others think a woman is or should be. Trying to define her essence would effectively tie her down to this ideal or perfect figure that others want to see and that would just make her lose her true essence. That being said, I think being a woman is more of a force of nature wrapped in flesh and bones, so to speak. She can take different forms, sizes and shapes. Before I thought I was a woman because I was born in a certain sexual orientation, I was a daughter and a sister and that’s all it was.
After meeting my husband, I realized my womanhood encompassed more than those I was born with but also who I choose to be, and I chose to be a wife. Then when I became a mother, I realized womanhood was even more than that. I don’t mean to say that being a wife and a mother is what makes me a woman, but rather I think that being a woman was everything and anything I chose to become, the accumulation of my experiences and choices that defined me, as a woman and as a person.
For another woman, her womanhood could mean differently. She could choose not to have a husband or children or both and that could be the definition and essence of her womanhood, her freedom, and her spirit. And I think it all just boils down to our identity, that only we ourselves can define.
MS: In your opinion, do you think that equality between men and women is present in our country?
YMR: I think that despite the Philippines being a relatively progressive country, gender gaps have been growing wider recently. We can even see this manifest in our global standing as a gender-equal country when our ranking dropped from 8th to 16th place last year. Aside from considering the gaps of women’s participation in political, economic and other key societal roles, there are still glaring issues such as sexual and physical violence, exploitation, gender-based work discrimination, especially in terms of unpaid and domestic work-load, and other forms of abuse and exploitation, all of which are showing they are very skewed against women. I think that our work in legislation has really been cut out for us and there’s really a lot more that needs to be done.
MS: What do you think are your notable contributions and achievements in our society?
YMR: Well firstly I would like to point out that my contributions aren’t just mine, but ours. I am simply chosen to represent and champion our sentiments in congress by the people who believed in Tingog and what we stand for, and we all share our victories together.
With this considered, one of our landmark legislations is RA 11210, or the 105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave Law, which increases the maternity leave period to 105 for female workers with an option to extend to an additional 30 days without pay, and additional 15 days for solo mothers.
This, I believe would help women all over the country, to take care of themselves without hesitation and systemic oppression. Another is RA 11313, or the Safe Spaces Act, which defines gender-based sexual harassment in streets, public spaces, online, workplaces, and educational or training institutions, and provides protective measures and prescribes penalties therefor. These are only some of the many House Bills we supported and passed.
MS: What empowers you as a woman?
YMR: I think empowerment can mean a lot of things, but personally, I feel most empowered when I am contributing to the people, especially the people of Region VIII. Being in a position to help and change lives not only keeps me on my toes to constantly improve at my job as a legislator, but even propels me to go above and beyond. I am very aware of my privilege and it always reminds me that I am accountable to the people who believe in me and the party, and I don’t want to fail them.
Personally, being a mother makes me feel more empowered as woman. As a mother, you nurture the personality and potential of your children. As a whole, mothers shape the abilities and capacities of future generations.
MS: What’s your opinion about women’s status in our society?
YMR: I think women in the Philippines enjoy a more gender-equal environment in comparison with other Southeast Asian countries—we have high education and literacy levels, we occupy key positions of leadership (some already became the President, Supreme Court justices, senators), and have a Magna Carta to protect our rights. However, we also cannot deny that we still experience different forms of oppression. Many are still victims of sexual predators, different forms of violence, gender-role stereotyping and other forms of exploitation. Aside from that, women, especially those in areas of armed conflict, in prostitutions, or those who are in prison have limited access to health, constricted work opportunities and other basic rights. As Audre Lorde would put it, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
MS: Do you have an advocacy for women, or if you would have the chance to do so, what’s it going to be?
YMR: As the vice-chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equality, women’s rights advocacies are very close to my heart. But I would have to say that I am most passionate about women’s health and its related issues. As a registered nurse, I am very aware that women are biologically susceptible to certain risks unique to us. Women’s health encompasses a wide spectrum; from reproductive health and family planning, to obstetric and postnatal care, and therefore require more attention. During the 17th congress, I supported the Expanded Maternity Leave Act because being a mother of four myself, I know that childbirth is not an easy job and women deserve to protect their health without having to fear losing their jobs for it.
MS: Who are your female role models?
YMR: Definitely the women in my family, especially my mom. She is the reason I am who I am right now. She raised me and my siblings in a very loving and nurturing environment and that has allowed us to grow and achieve our fullest potential. As a mother myself, I aspire to achieve what my mom was able to do for us.
MS: What is your message to the modern Filipina?
YMR: Take up space and make your voice be heard! The modern Filipina is smart, critical and most importantly empowered. She knows her worth and she knows she is capable of taking a more active role in shaping her own future and even that of our nation along with it.
MS: Can you share with us the activities of the House/ your office this International Women’s Month?
YMR: As the vice-chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equality, I will be attending a couple of events and workshops such as the Gender Responsive Workshop for Legislators tomorrow here at the House of Representatives. We will also be hosting the same workshop for our secretariat personnel. We are actually doing this in partnership with the Asia foundation (TAF). I was also invited as a resource speaker by the Lady Local Legislator’s League, Philippines for their workshop in Davao City with the theme “Women Legislator: Champions of Peace and Non-violence” on March 12.
I will generally be discussing about women empowerment and social graces. We also have several meetings in preparation for the opening ceremony of the Women with Disabilities Day Celebration on March 30. These are of course only some of the activities we are looking forward to this Women’s Month. We still have small meetings such as with Facebook for example, where we talk about internet safety, with different women’s groups to talk about different issues that they want us to address in congress and others
MS: How was the experience to be part of an “all woman” session to celebrate IWD 2020 last Monday especially you were a presiding officer?
YMR: Honestly, it was a very empowering moment for me. Simply seeing my fellow lady legislators taking all the lead roles during the plenary session, it just gives us a clearer and more tangible reminder that women are more than capable of taking the lead in the national arena. This activity has reminded us of our triumphs and how far we have come; from being confined to this obedient and supporting role that should only stay at home, to having the freedom to run for the highest positions of power in the country. We have nothing but gratitude to the women who paved the way for us, and all that we really want is to do the same for the generations that will come after us.
MS: Where should women empowerment start? And how could we all contribute to this?
YMR: I truly believe that women empowerment should always start at home. All the little girls out there should know that they are capable of being anything they want, and they deserve nothing but love and support from their families. They shouldn’t have to face battles and obstacles in their own homes.
MS: As a former beauty queen and now a politician, do you see yourself as a prime example of an empowered woman?
YMR: I think every single woman who dreams and is able to carve their own future is an empowered woman. I am proud of my background and I am proud of the career choices I have made. We are all leaving a legacy of our own and if I can inspire a single young Filipina out there to step up and follow her own dreams then I would have simply done my part in forwarding the women’s movement.
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