Internet giant Google and video-sharing platform YouTube last March 30 capped off Women’s Month by featuring four Filipina YouTubers to share how they overcame biases to get where they are today.
The speakers who told their stories were plus-size influencer Helen Payawal or “Helen on Fleek”, entrepreneur and PWD advocate Jozelle Tech, Muslim Maranao content creator Egypa Balindong, as well as mompreneur and blogger Joarra Galang-Solis or “Rookie Mommy PH”.
Discrimination against women is an ongoing challenge. According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report that ranks countries based on their success in closing gender gaps, the Philippines actually fell nine places from its 2019 position. The country’s drop indicates that the local battle against gender inequality and discrimination has lost ground.
But the speakers have shown the war is far from over. In their own ways, they’ve fought back against various prejudices that attempt to limit Filipino women.
Helen on Fleek kicked off the talk with the stereotypes restricting plus-sized women. She recounted that women like her are dissuaded from striving to be stars because slimness is today’s beauty standard.
“But I realize the beauty of getting into YouTube kasi ‘yung mga viewers natin ngayon they want realness and authenticity,” she said.
So, she took the leap and launched her channel where she motivates women of all sizes to love and feel confident in themselves. She offered plus-sized viewers one last piece of advice.
“You can do whatever you want and inspire other people as well. Because at the end of the day, it’s your happiness that matters,” she stressed.
Jozelle Tech followed with her experience being a differently-abled woman. Since she was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3 that has kept her wheelchair bound, she stated that false assumptions have always a part of her life.
“People would quickly assume that I would need help or I can’t do certain things because society has imprinted this stereotypical view on what’s possible for people like us simply because they see our physical limitations,” she shared.
Currently, however, Jozelle has broken these stereotypes. She’s proved that she’s more than capable as a seasoned freelancer and the CEO of her own brand creative consultancy.
“The biggest challenge here is the mindset,” she reflected. “When you go out and you get to meet someone, just see them as a blank slate. Allow them to have that canvas and be decorated with their actual preferences, skills, character, and personality. The more that you get to know them, magugulat ka nalang talaga on what people can be capable of.”
Egypa Balindong took the virtual stage next. She described that growing up in her conservative Muslim community, it sometimes struck her that it would be easier to be a man because women’s voices are hardly acknowledged.
Just recently, in fact, she had to go through the process of an arranged marriage where women are not given a say.
“I respect our culture and tradition because matagal naman din siya, but its not something that I envisioned for myself for all the time. I mean, it’s 2022 and I feel like we need to progress din,” she asserted. “So, I had to stand up and raise my voice and make the people around me understand na it’s not something that I want.”
Rather than rebelling outright, she described how she still respectfully acceded to tradition and used the feminine softness prized in her culture to explain gently — but resolutely — the need to ask the woman’s opinion before marriage.
Happily single, she advised women fighting biases that “it’s very important to have an open heart and an open mind and be open to learning and educating other people. At the same time, be very patient. Kung may nagtatanong sa iyo, huwag kang ma-offend.”
Lastly, Rookie Mommy PH detailed the challenges faced by corporate moms. When she returned to work after having her firstborn, she had been put aside for projects and leadership positions simply because she had given birth, was breast feeding, or was taking care of a child.
She observed “that maybe they mean well… it’s automatic to think that way because they don’t know how to ask first.” Yet, she because of their assumption, she found that she “really needed to speak up in order for me to get to what I want.”
“The moment I did that, it changed everything. People would listen, especially the higher bosses, male, whatever gender.” She then urged all women: “One thing that you have to do is speak up. People will listen when you speak up.”
Google Philippines country director Bernadette Nacario added her own two cents. “In order for us to break the bias, one of the steps we have to make is to #askherfirst. Through this, we emphasize the value of asking women first as a sign of respect and acknowledgement and to stop assumptions and preconceived notions.”
“This women’s month and beyond, may we continue to break not just the bias, but also the barriers that disconnect women from opportunities that matter. Opportunities that give us the voice, power, and capability to succeed,” Nacario said during the event.