November 17, 2004 (STAR) COMMONNESS By Bong R. Osorio - Leave it to the meticulous Swedes to highlight the fresh and out-of-the-box thinking that women can do. In an exercise aimed at flexing design creativity, an all-woman team of engineers set out to do a makeover of the automobile. Volvo Cars Corporation (wholly owned by Ford Motor Corporation) gathered a mostly-female project team and provided it with a standard design budget.

The result is the Volvo YCC, or Your Concept Car. Among its more radical elements is its lift-up hood or bonnet. The car would alert the driver and the car dealer if it needed servicing, set an appointment and any repairs or maintenance work would be done at the appointed time. The hood can only be lifted in the service shop. Headrests vertically split in half to prevent bouffant hairdos from being squashed.

The world as we know it has been defined and refined by men. Over a long period of our history, women were relegated mostly to the tasks of childbearing and child-rearing, domestic upkeep and as sex partner. The West saw the emergence of women as a political force only in the latter part of the 20th century. Even then, women were still treated deferentially, never mind that women were becoming a major component of the working force.

In the Philippines, a bastion of a macho culture not in any way diminished by a male-oriented Catholic Church, and further propagated by an American cultural bias, women have been traditional adornments draped over a proffered arm during social occasions. For the less-than-affluent and the less-than-cosmopolitan rural lasses, there were always the beauty contests and the early marital bed to look forward to.

There is a smattering of strong women leaders in world history; there have been few and far between. Argentina’s Isabel Peron, India’s Indira Gandhi, Egypt’s Queens Cleopatra VII and Nefertiti, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, our own President Corazon Aquino, the US’ Eleanor Roosevelt and China’s Empress Wu Chao are some that quickly come to mind, and in no particular order.

Breaking Barriers

Today, women have broken the ranks of formerly male-only institutions, from executive government posts to executive corporate positions. In the US, Catalyst – a women’s research organization – reports that 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women occupying at least a quarter of their corporate officer positions. This percentage rose from only 5 percent in 1995.

Closer to home, we have had two women presidents and a whole slew of local government executives and members of Congress. In the private sector, women executives are making their mark as entrepreneurs, corporate executives, professionals, academics and everything in between. Female leaders have made headlines in this testosterone-laden society, mainly because these women have stood up for their principles in the face of an irrepressible cultural bias against their success.

What do women bring to the table when it comes to handling the affairs of a corporation or government? From its creative exercise, Volvo learned that women look at a situation or issue differently. They may be less prone to stereotyped reaction to stimulus, thus giving them the advantage of being able to see a wider range of options. They may be more in touch with both the left and right side of their brains.

The most recent batch of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) awardees is a case in point. Coming from a cross-section of the country’s population, these outstanding leaders represent empowered and energized women of this generation.

The awardees are: Alicia Rita Morales Arroyo for Business-Stock Exchange, Ma. Josephine C. Barrios for Arts-Literature, Madonna Carbon Casimero for Medicine-Science and Technology/Agriculture, Cecilia Oreña Drilon for Journalism-Radio/TV Broadcast, Raquel del Rosario Fortun for Medicine-Forensic Pathology, Catherine Babao Guballa for Public Service-Children’s Health Care Advocacy, Carminia Lourdes Gutierrez for Environment-Protection, Marichu C. Lambino for Law, Aura Castillo Matias for Industrial Engineering, Deanie Lyn Ocampo for Education-Early Childhood, Fernandina Sandico Ong for Arts-Fashion, and Blessilda Perez Raposa for Education-Mathematics.

They join the ranks of women who are showing the way towards achieving excellence in their respective fields. They may not make it to the nightly news (leave talking heads to the likes of Senator motor-mouth and the Sexbomb Dancers), but their contributions are far-reaching. They are redefining the role of women in our society, both in the personal and business levels.

The Fight Of The Weaker Sex?

While women are expected to bear their statistically mandated 3.5 children, keep house, mend and darn the hubby’s socks and provide the daily dose of nurturing and quality time with the kids, career women also have to contend with office politics, sales targets, production timelines and the boss’ sexual overtures. That many of these TOWNS awardees have made it to the top is testament to their diligence, perseverance and plain old hard work. Being a woman and attaining success at home and at work is no easy task.

Popular wisdom says that women have a higher threshold for pain. A needle prick is enough to get a man wobbly and incoherent. A woman in the throes of childbirth tears her vaginal opening by several centimeters during labor to make way for the baby with so much as a whimper (the anesthesia is only administered during delivery). At the risk of oversimplifying, it is perhaps this higher endurance that enables women to suffer through periods of great physical pain, long periods of emotional stress and countless incidences of humiliation and torment, and be able to survive and prosper.

Women are referred to as the weaker sex; in fact, they may only be so in terms of brawn. A man’s bones and muscles are naturally denser and heavier. A woman’s body, however, is designed to do more complex and more sensitive functions. During childbearing, prehistoric women had to rely on their wiles and cunning to stay away from harm and secure food. Their bodies have had to cope with growing a baby in the womb while expending energy and effort at fending for itself.

Social bonding between men and women may have relieved some of the stresses brought upon a woman (men bring home the bacon), but domestic bliss is an ever-fleeting goal. With the institution of the family came the institution of a male-dominated family – replete with the attendant domestic violence and servitude.

Presently, women continue to fight for a fair and equal standing with men. One only has to recall images of fully-swathed women in Afghanistan and other conservative Muslim societies, the outlawed female circumcision rites of Africa and the silent problem of wife-beating in the Philippines to realize that the fight is far from over.


Filipinos are not lacking women role models. Loida Nicolas Lewis and Josie Natori are two eminent examples of highly competent leaders. Nicolas Lewis inherited the top post in TLC Beatrice, one of the world’s leading multinational food companies, after her husband and former company CEO passed away. Since 1994, she has steered the global company to greater profits and more acclaim. Josie Natori has successfully marketed her brand of lingerie and daywear in the USA.

The TOWNS awardees are local role models worthy of emulation as well. They are proof positive of the Filipino women’s significance, not only in their epic roles as wife and mother, but as community and business leaders and catalysts for change in a nation pining for leaders. Perhaps Filipino men can do everyone a service by giving deserving women a chance to take the reins, not only in government, but in our local communities as well. After all is said and done, it is not women who have a need to be liberated but the men who need to be emancipated from long-discarded notions of male chauvinism and inequality of the sexes.

* * * E-mail bongo@vasia.com or bongo@campaignsandgrey.net for comments, questions and suggestions. Thank you for your letters.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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