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International Women’s Day

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If you’re Filipina please stand up!

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate, acknowledge and applaud women in different walks of life. I dedicated this year’s IWD 2019 to all the Filipino mamas who left their children, husband, relatives and country to work abroad to provide for their families back in the Philippines. As a child of that kind of incredible woman, I am very thankful and will always be inspired by my mama’s sacrifices. At that time, I never really understood why she had to leave, I told her that she can work in Philippines and I don’t have to go to a good school. After her first year of working abroad, she came home for a month holiday, I tried to convince her to stay and I remember promising her a lot; like doing my chores, homework (haha!) like any normal child of 9 years old would, but she was adamant that she needed to go back to England to work so we can pay for my education. I still didn’t understand but life went on.

My mama (Mila) in the middle

Now many years later, I’m a mama myself, I can now say that I understand why she worked far from us. She didn’t really want to leave me and my sister, but she was given an opportunity to better our lives and if it means that she had to go and work somewhere far, she would. She was prepared to dive into the unknown in a country and with no family around her. That kind of bold move drives this world forward. The resilience women have, sometimes very difficult situations make us even stronger….don’t mess with Mama Bears!

Filipina refers to the female Filipinos and throughout history, Filipinas have fought side by side with Filipino soldiers during the Spanish colonial, American colonial and Japan occupation conflicts. Many women have shaped Philippine history, women like Gabriela Silang, the first Filipina who lead an uprising against foreign invaders. Teresa Magbanua, an experienced horse rider and marksman. She is one of the few that fought for the Philippines against all it’s aggressors: Spain, America and Japan. She Successfully lead ‘Bolo Troops’ in the Visayas fighting hand to hand. Captain Neives Fernandez of Tacloban, Leyte, leading Filipino guerrillas when Japanese troops occupied Philippines during world war II. Tandang Sora ‘Melchora Aquino’, she was called the Mother of the Revolution, risking her life helping the ‘Katipuneros’ by providing food and looking after the wounded. Josefa Llanes Escoda, a suffragette, civil leader and social worker helped by aiding prisoners of war, stranded women and children when Japan occupied Philippines. These are some of the women who have fought their way throughout our Philippine history.

We have modern heroines and, in my eyes, these are the women who are Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). They are nurses, carers, hospitality and domestic workers. These women are just like my mama who courageously worked away from home. Some of these women sometimes endured so much pain, violence and mental issues due to loneliness, hardships and sometimes abusive employers. Yet these women continue to work and support their families back home. There are many inspirational Filipinas all over the world who have achieved more than many could dream of, these Filipinas are entrepreneurs, writers, artists, scientist, doctors, solicitors, chefs, firefighters, soldiers, actors, singers and in so many different professions. I have two daughters and I know that they will have a brighter future because of these women who have given so much, so that we, their children and grandchildren and our children can flourish in this competitive world.

Miriam Defensor Santiago

Here are some of the women who continue to inspire me; Miriam Defensor Santiago was outspoken, bold talking and always fought for the truth. She was a Senator, Judge at the international criminal court and a law maker who did not fear speaking up for women’s rights, Climate change, Freedom of information, Reproductive Health Law to name a few and never stopped trying to clean up a corrupt government.

Amy Besa Dorotan who with her husband Romy Dorotan won a Jane Grisgon award for their book ‘Memories of Philippine Kitchens’. They came to London to promote their book and do a talk about Filipino food in 2008, it was one of Philippine Generations’ first events “A Taste of Philippine Cuisine“, I am one of the co-founders and helped organise the event as well as sell the book as an official distributor! At this time I was not on the food scene yet. After Amy’s speech I was inspired to explore Filipino food and my desire to share Filipino Food to the British people sparked. Her book is also very inspirational, it contained a lot of information about regional dishes, as well as its background and was very personal in its tone which connected with me. I think if I never met Amy and Romy I don’t think I’d be doing food today.

Hidilyn Diaz who is a Silver Medallist for women’s weightlifting in the last Olympics in Brazil 2016. I work out in the gym and often use free weights, it’s an area where many women feel intimidated and I used to feel intimidated too but when I put headphones on, I see no-one! When I saw Hidilyn at the Olympics she made me so proud to be a Filipina and winning a medal was a bonus. When she received her medal I said to myself she’s my sporting hero! Lifting weights takes a lot of mental and physical strength. The next day I went to the gym and lifted heavy! Hidilyn opened a weight lifting gym in her hometown Zamboanga teaching and inspiring young men and women in Mindanao as her way of giving back to her community.

Catriona Gray wearing her Philippine nations costume

Catriona Gray who won Miss Universe 2018. I never really tuned in to Miss universe before but I knew it was happening. What inspired me with Catriona is that she is proud to be Filipina and it shows, I have never met her but she carries herself so well, she promoted Philippines as a whole! When I saw her video with her national dress I was gobsmacked! It was very thoughtful, she did not focus on the stereotypes like the Filipiniana dress but she gave a platform for some of the most under-represented people of the Philippines like the T’boli tribe. That to me is very inspirational, of course she had designers to do the costume but she must want to wear it if she’s walking (or in her case wheeling it) on stage!

Maria Oggay also known as Whang-od

Last but definitely not the least, Maria Oggay known as Whang-od a tattoo artist from Buslacan, Tinglayan in Kalinga. She is the last “mababatok” from the Philippines. She has been doing traditional tattoos for many, many years and she is keeping one of old traditions alive. When Spain first landed in the Philippines, they described the people as ‘los pintados’ or the painted ones. She is a massive link to our pre-colonial past.

These are some of the women who have given me plenty of courage and sass to grind and be a better me. My girls always cheer me up and are always positive too. I am surrounded by amazing women who are boss mums and boss ladies every day (you know who you are!), they give me a nudge when I need it or a bottle of wine or gin when it’s that bad!

Traditionally, in pre-colonial times, the woman was equal to men and in the village was a source of great knowledge and respect. In the Filipino language, there is no distinction between male and female, there is no he or she, it is ‘sha’; Men and Women are equal. Growing up in the Philippines, I didn’t see women differently to men either, although I noticed that there were some divisions in roles but at a young age I did not fully understand it. Historically Filipinas are at the top of the hierarchy and was followed by the tribe. We Filipinas are natural born leaders and a big influence on our modern tribes as the ‘Matriarch’ of the family. We are always breaking the barriers, the stereotypes and boxes we are put in. We never settle for less, we are confident and fierce! So ladies, go forth and continue to show the world what you are made of!

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