The whole of March is National Women’s Month. Tomorrow, March 8, is particularly special this year as it marks International Women’s Day.
Wonderful to know that there’s a special day, even a whole month for women—to celebrate our roles in history and progress.
Women are, in fact, doing awe-inspiring things not just one day a year, a month, a year, but actually throughout our lives.
Recently I had the chance to sit down and talk with two remarkable women. One, I have known my entire life, while the other is a new welcome presence.
It was my mother, Dette Aquino-Tan, who introduced me to Nenita
“Rita” Dy. Both women have boundless energy—they never seem to tire because they’re constantly on the go.
Not surprisingly, the two met through Zonta International Organization, which has been bringing together women with the goal of empowering them worldwide through service and advocacy.
Dy is currently president of Zonta Club Makati-Ayala (ZCMA). Formerly a manager at the Manila office of Singapore Airlines for 31 years, Dy’s corporate background and training serves as a guide in how she handles her duties and responsibilities at ZCMA.
She’s a no-nonsense woman who can recognize a potentially good worker to mentor, but has no patience for inefficiency and haphazard plans and projects. And rightly so.
The Zonta clubs in the Philippines, numbering 50 with some 1,800 members, are on a mission of utmost importance and urgency. While their officers and members are confident, accomplished women, there are too many others in the country whose rights are being violated. Helping them cannot wait even a minute longer.
ZCMA has been working with a French-Filipino NGO, Cameleon Association Inc. (CAI), as its advocacy project since 2016 following a meeting between Dy and CAI founder Laurence Ligier.
The story of the selfless French woman and Cameleon is inspiring. For over 20 years now, Cameleon, based in Passi, Iloilo, has been taking under its wing sexually abused children and women in the Western Visayas region. It has been instrumental in changing these women’s lives.
Girls, some as young as five years old, are brought to Cameleon by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) every year. The girls arrive broken, with no sense of self.
When a young girl is turned over to CAI, its staff works on healing and rehabilitating the girl’s body, mind and spirit through a holistic program that includes formal education, medical and psychological care, livelihood training and community development.
Just as important, CAI fights to give young victims justice as they file legal charges against their perpetrators.
Since CAI’s opening in 1997, it has changed the lives of 7,800 sexually abused survivors, disadvantaged children, and their families. Ligier hopes that, just like the chameleon, for which CAI is named after, “children will be able to transform and adapt themselves physically and morally, away from their traumatic past and toward a better future.”
Dy, after several consultations with Ligier, realized there was a need to open another CAI center, this time in Negros, since the one in Iloilo could not take in more girls. Around 30 percent of the victims brought to CAI are from Negros.
ZCMA looked for a place as well as funding. Partnering with sister club Zonta Club of Makati and Environs, and donors BDO Foundation, Cooperation Humanitaire Luxembourg, and the Government of Luxembourg, CAI was given a parcel of land, donated by the city government of Silay.
The groundbreaking ceremonies were held Jan. 10 in Silay City.
To improve the proportion of beneficiary-country sponsors to CAI’s more than 85 percent funding from foreign donors, ZCMA has gained support from the San Miguel Corporation, Metrobank, and Philippine Airlines foundations. ZCMA is working on adding more sponsors.
ZCMA has also partnered with the Women’s Correctional Institute by assisting in livelihood projects and finding outlets for the prison’s projects that allow women inmates to earn income. The opportunity to create something, and earn from it, gives prisoners a sense of pride and dignity, helping in her rehabilitation, and making good use of the time spent behind bars. Apart from supplying machines and materials for the inmates’ livelihood program, ZCMA also provides school bags and supplies for the inmates’ dependents.
Dy has also turned her attention to another advocacy—ending the cycle of violence against women and children.
Zonta participated in the international campaign “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.” This annual event is held from Nov. 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
In 2017, ZCMA, with support from Makati Mayor Abby Binay, met with the 33 barangay heads of Makati to educate and advice women on how to protect themselves, and make them aware of their rights over their bodies. A generous supply of educational pamphlets was distributed for easy reference.
Throughout those 16 days, the Zontians successfully engaged 26 hotels and restaurants in 33 locations nationwide to create an orange-colored/ themed meal, with proceeds going to CAI.
The participating restaurants included Wildflour, Chef Jessie’s, Milky Way, Mozu, Tender Bob’s, Makati Garden Club, as well as hotels Conrad Manila, Manila Diamond, Raffles Makati, Taal Vista Hotel, Sonya’s Garden, Radisson Blu Cebu and Park Inns in Clark and Davao.
Even friends like Ruthy and Bobet Vera also threw in their support by airing free advertisements for the advocacy on their numerous radio stations for 16 days.
Zonta, which believes in the power and potential of the youth, likewise supports a “Zclub” at the Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino High School in Makati. It recently organized a symposium on social media. Lawyer Lorna Kapunan (a former ZCMA president) delivered a talk on the topic “No to Violence Against Women.”
The ZCMA received a Governor’s Award for its advocacy project with CAI in the Zonta International District Convention held last September in Manila.
The award has inspired the women of ZCMA as they continue to empower and serve women—not just for a monthly celebration but in honor of their sisterhood’s centennial in 2019.
To make a donation via bank
transfer: Cameleon Association Inc., Banco De Oro (BDO), Passi City, Iloilo branch; account no. 0082 4004 3459
Visit www.cameleon-association. org/en