There has never been a better time to be a woman than today, said 85% of Pinays surveyed for a study on the current state of modern Filipina’s role and contribution to society.
Moreover, despite the Philippines’ largely patriarchal culture, the J. Walter Thompson study noted that today’s Filipinas are at their most empowered. Nine in every 10 women see femininity as a strength rather than a weakness.
Indeed, many of those who excel in business, finance, public service, sports, science, arts, and other traditionally male-dominated fields are women.
In honor of International Women’s Month, we’re citing some outstanding women in the Philippines who are making a difference as leaders, mentors, role models, and game-changers in their respective fields.
Teresita “Tessie” Sy Coson is the chair of BDO Unibank, the largest bank in the Philippines, as well as vice chair of SM Investments Corporation.
The success of these two companies through the years at her helm has earned the business magnate several international awards. She’s one of Forbes’ 50 Most Powerful Women in Asia, a distinction she shares with another Filipina tycoon, Robinsons Retail Holdings President and CEO Robina Gokongwei-Pei.
Those who grew up reading books from National Book Store have one person—a woman at that—to thank for. She’s Socorro “Nanay Coring” Ramos, who started almost eight decades ago what’s now known as the biggest bookstore and school/office supplies chain in the Philippines.
Nanay Coring credits her success to hard work, patience, and perseverance. In an interview with Entrepreneur Philippines, she shared that she’s still working even at age 95. “You should show people that you’re still strong even if you’re not. It’s psychological,” she said.
Before she entered politics, Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo was a human rights lawyer who did pro bono work to defend abused wives in her hometown, Naga City in Camarines Sur.
Vice President Robredo is a long-time champion of women empowerment and gender equality. For her advocacy, she earned the Tanglaw Award from The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) Foundation, as well as the “Honorary Outstanding Woman Award of the Year 2016” from the Thai government.
Josephina Almeda Cruz, more popularly known in the fashion industry as Josie Natori, is one of the outstanding women in the Philippines in terms of wealth. She runs The Natori Company, an international women’s fashion brand.
Natori grew up in a family that valued independence and entrepreneurial spirit among its female members. “Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to depend on anyone,” the young Josie’s lola would tell her.
The self-made billionaire’s efforts to give back to her kababayans are commendable. Even though her business is based in New York, she employs Filipino workers in her factory in Manila. She’s also helping Filipino artists get study grants through the Asian Cultural Council.
Seasoned singer and actress Lea Salonga is one of the outstanding women in the entertainment industry both here and abroad.
The multi-awarded broadway star is world-famous for her iconic performances in musicals like Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, as well as being the singing voice of Disney characters Princess Jasmine and Mulan.
Up to this day, Salonga is still active as a stage performer in the Philippines and abroad. She has also mentored aspiring Pinoy singers as a coach on The Voice of the Philippines.
In a pageant-obsessed country like the Philippines, Catriona Gray’s Miss Universe 2018 win has brought so much joy and pride to Filipinos. Since she won the most coveted title, the whole country has gone crazy with her now iconic lava walk and slow-mo twirl.
But the Filipina-Australian stunner is more than just a beautiful face. Raising the bar for future Pinay beauty queens, Gray ignited her fans’ love for the country by incorporating different aspects of Filipino culture when she competed last year in Bangkok—from wearing outfits made of indigenous fabrics to producing videos that aptly represent Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
The queen actively advocates for access to education and HIV awareness. In her early 20s, she was already volunteering for Young Focus in Tondo, Manila and helped the non-profit organization raise funds to build an educational center for their young beneficiaries.
Apo Whang-Od Oggay is the world’s oldest tattoo artist. She’s among the most popular and prolific, too. Visitors flock to her village in Kalinga just to get inked with her signature designs.
For preserving the traditional practice of tattooing, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts recognized Whang-Od’s contribution to the Philippine culture and arts through the Dangal ng Haraya Award.
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz has proven that no amount of weight can weigh a woman down. She won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, ending the Philippines’ two-decade Olympic medal drought and making her the first Filipina to win in the Olympics.
Prior to that feat, she has won several international weightlifting competitions such as in the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games.
Do you know what else is astig about this powerlifter? Diaz serves in the Philippine Air Force as an Airwoman First Class.
In the corporate world, there’s a term called “glass ceiling” that keeps women from advancing their career. But Marife Zamora—one of the top female executives and outstanding women in the Philippines—has shattered that proverbial glass. She rose from the ranks until she became the chairperson of Convergys Philippines (now Concentrix), being responsible for the BPO company’s stature as the country’s top employer.
Zamora is a strong advocate for female empowerment in the workplace. She founded an organization called the Filipina CEO Circle made up of women CEOs in the Philippines who climbed the corporate ladder and lead huge private corporations in the country. She’s also the third woman president of the Management Association of the Philippines.
In an interview with The Philippine Star, Zamora shared this career advice for women: “Do not be afraid to pursue top leadership posts in any field. Gender should never be a hindrance in nor reason for being selected to the top post. Women shouldn’t be guilty in pursuing careers just as men shouldn’t be embarrassed about doing household chores. More women will be empowered; more glass ceilings will be broken.”
What kept you busy when you were 15? Alexandra “Alex” Eduque spent her teenage years volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that builds homes for poor families. Not only that—she founded the Habitat Youth Council that raised funds for her cause.
Right after graduating from college, the young humanitarian organized an NGO called MovEd that pushes for early childhood education in less-privileged communities. She later got recognized for her volunteering work, being the first and youngest Filipino to be cited at the Global Awards for Fundraising in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Asked about the advice she’d give those who want to do outreach work, this she had to say: “You have to find a cause that resonates with you. You have to find a cause you can identify with, something that you feel passionate about. And when you find that cause, you always find a way that you’re able to help out sustainably and efficiently.”
Outstanding women are made, not born. Aspiring to be one? Go for it! There’s no shame in chasing success. May these stories of empowered women inspire you to start creating your own success story. Remember: your gender doesn’t and will never define what you’ll become!
Any other outstanding women in the Philippines you think should be on this list? Share your thoughts!
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