Deniece Milinette Cornejo is the CEO at Demico Global Solutions, Chairman at the National Congress for Young Filipinos, National Project Director at Miss Tourism Philippines, Regional Development Council Chairman at Junior Chamber International Philippines, a Goodwill Ambassador, Senior Vice President for Southeast Asia at AI Trades, Ambassador at the International Martial Arts Academy, and President at Association of Women’s Rights Advocates.
Here we talk about gender equality within the Philippines.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Your work for women’s rights tends to remain important in Canadian society and to, probably, most non-religious or secular people throughout the country. What differentiates the SEA region’s concerns with gender equality compared to North America and Western Europe or the “West’s”?
Deniece Cornejo: I am inspired and grateful to learn that my work is able to contribute to our society. In the Southeast Asian region, recent years show that the number of women holding public office has increased, especially in local government. So far, only in the Philippines has female representation in national government risen above 10 per cent. When women do manage to enter the political arena, they often find themselves marginalized in a male-dominated culture, with real power remaining in men’s hands. The few individuals who have attained the highest political offices (such as President in the Philippines and Indonesia) have done so because they are the daughter or wife of a famous man. There was a time when it was difficult to become advocates of women’s issues, for this would risk alienating their male colleagues or the male electorate. Today, more and more advocates have risen from the comforts of their own homes. Be it in the West or Asia, greater female involvement in politics is impeded by the way candidates are recruited as well as inculcated attitudes that see women’s primary role as that of wife and mother. Gender stereotypes that favor males over females are often reinforced in school textbooks and are sometimes encouraged by religious teachings. Against this backdrop, it is clear that discrimination against women, especially in the economic sector and in the case of violence against women, is still persistent in every country.
Jacobsen: What issues on gender equality and women’s rights has the Philippines gotten right and wrong on gender equality?
Cornejo: One issue the Filipinos got right on the grounds of gender equality is that advocates are lobbying for more opportunities for women. This implied that we are fighting for more jobs, more freedom, more budget allocations and for more acceptance as an equal in the society. One misconception that Filipinos always have when it comes to discussing gender equality is that when we say “women’s rights,” they automatically think that it means less rights for men. I want to emphasize that more rights for one gender does not mean less rights for the other side of the scale. It’s not a pie. No receives less when the share or division is fair. It’s a situation where both male and female receive equal opportunities and advancement of interests.
Jacobsen: What has the West gotten correct and incorrect on women’s rights?
Cornejo: As I mentioned before, our Western neighbors practice a more liberal and democratic thinking where everybody is free to express their thoughts at their own will with less hindrances. The disadvantage is with more liberalism comes judgement and ridicule. I believe the answer for this question is the same as the above because whether we are in the Western or Eastern arena, the society is plagued with the same misconceptions on women’s rights. I believe both hemispheres of the globe are lobbying for access to similar opportunities.
Jacobsen: What may be a means by which either region – SEA and previously defined West – learn from one another?
Cornejo: The most effective means I deem fit is to engage in a meaningful conversation especially during the ASEAN Summit, G7 summit and the like. If they may invite us a seat at the table for discussion, it will be incredibly monumental. It is during these international conferences or conventions that the most powerful countries come together to discuss matters like this. This could be an opportunity to exchange healthy dialogues on the issues of advancing the interests of women.
Jacobsen: How can the Roman Catholic Christian faith provide a unique framework for gender equality? How can the hierarchs of the Roman Catholic faith learn from the laity, and vice versa?
Cornejo: The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country. I suppose the Church can refine their views to make the theories and ideals of equality more accessible and understandable for everyday Filipinos. The time is fast-changing and if adjustments could be made, it would be easier without necessitating rallies or demonstrations.
Jacobsen: How can a secular or non-religious framework provide a unique vision of gender equality? How can the secular leading intellectuals and social organizers learn from ordinary secular people, and vice versa?
Cornejo: The non-religious sector of our society can address issues and present their vision of a modern approach to equality by, as most political sectors do, establishing or supporting organizations whose mission and vision they identify themselves with. I previously mentioned how an organization like the UN women has inspired me to found an organization of my own, the AWRA (Association of Women’s Rights and Advocates) that seeks to spread awareness and prevent violence and all forms of abuse against women. The answer to this always begins at the grassroots level. It is by supporting these organizations at a humble manner or by educating ourselves and by taking the initiative so we can ask the right questions that the secular intellectuals and ordinary people can learn from one another.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Ms. Cornejo.
Cornejo: Once again, thank you for your time as well. It has been an honour and privilege to give you my thoughts on this matter. I believe the quest for accessing equal opportunities for women does not end here. The fight continues even after this interview.