Why these women envoys to PH are ‘amazed’ by Filipinas | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Women for women: Ambassadors Betty Palaso (Papua New Guinea), Megawati Manan (Brunei Darussalam), Marie Fontanel (France), Constance See Sin Yuan (Singapore), Maria Alfonsa Magdalena Geraedts (Netherlands), MaryKay Carlson (USA), Hae Kyong Yu (Australia), Annika Thunborg (Sweden), Laure Beaufils (UK), Chantale Wong (US executive director to the Asian Development Bank), Raduta Dana Matache (Romania) and Marcela Ordoñez (Colombia) —PHOTO COURTESY OF THE US EMBASSY
Why these women envoys to PHare ‘amazed’ by Filipinas
Women for women: Ambassadors Betty Palaso (Papua New Guinea), Megawati Manan (Brunei Darussalam), Marie Fontanel (France), Constance See Sin Yuan (Singapore), Maria Alfonsa Magdalena Geraedts (Netherlands), MaryKay Carlson (USA), Hae Kyong Yu (Australia), Annika Thunborg (Sweden), Laure Beaufils (UK), Chantale Wong (US executive director to the Asian Development Bank), Raduta Dana Matache (Romania) and Marcela Ordoñez (Colombia) —PHOTO COURTESY OF THE US EMBASSY


Now, this is what you call a power breakfast—a women power breakfast.

It is a Thursday morning, and 12 of the women ambassadors to the Philippines have gathered at the United States Ambassador’s residence in Forbes Park, Makati, for what Ambassador MaryKay Carlson calls the “Second Annual Photo Shoot of Women Ambassadors to the Philippines.”

Carlson tells Lifestyle that she got the idea because every March, the US State Department has a photographer take headshots of staff, to give an opportunity to the younger professionals who are new at their jobs to have that professional photo to put on their resumés.

“We have a lot of occasions to have to present photos to newspapers,” she says. So she also thought of having photos taken with her fellow ambassadors in March, since it’s also International Women’s Month.

Carlson says she and her fellow envoys see each other a lot—they even have a group chat.

“I think women as leaders, we tend to be more collaborative,” she adds. “So, we also share substantive ideas about what’s happening in the geostrategic realm and here in the Indo-Pacific region, but also about team-building, about managing the embassy, about motivating teams. It also makes for a fun, great photo shoot, with multiple outfit changes, poses and backgrounds, while talking shop.”

Lifestyle exclusively talked to the gathered envoys, except for Ambassador Megawati Manan of Brunei Darussalam, who declined to be interviewed. Here are excerpts (the following has been edited for length and clarity):

Ambassador Chantale Wong

US executive director to Asian Development Bank

On gender rights:

In 2018, we made something called Strategy 2030, which is to look at the next 10 years of commitments. And in there, we’ve always had a strong gender target. All of our projects have to have some elements of gender policy … We have a target in terms of how much gender is embedded into our projects. We exceeded that target last year. But more importantly, efforts to include financial inclusion for women, women’s access to health or education …

On being a woman in diplomacy:

When I joined the board in 2022, I was the only female and that was very lonely, for sure. But today, it’s very different. We have now four women members of the board.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:

We are a matriarchal society here. Filipino women are the strongest that I’ve met. They provide everything—the food, the nurture. I think they are the backbone of the Filipino society.

Ambassador Hae Kyong Yu


On gender rights:

I believe the Australian government really leads in gender equality and gender rights. If you look at Australia’s international development policy that was announced last year, it has a very strong emphasis on gender equality. There is a commitment that at least 80 percent of our development program will have gender equality. That means that at least $72 million every year of what we will be rolling out will address gender equality objectives in the Philippines. We’ve put our money where our mouth is when it comes to gender equality, and it’s a very important development objective for us, and we do what we preach overseas as well as at home.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:I am always in awe of Filipino women. The Philippines has had more female presidents than Australia has had a female prime minister and that actually goes to show the feisty, strong leadership that is displayed by Filipino women. On top of that, they are so family-oriented and nurturing. They know what it means to nurture people to bring about peace and harmony, through family-oriented approach to business practices, as well as government policies. These are some of the attributes of Filipino women that I really, really admire. I love how they combine determined leadership with that nurturing, family-oriented skills.

Ambassador Marcela Ordoñez


On gender rights:

Gender rights are one of the central programs of my government. And we have a feminist foreign policy, which means we try to support all processes, guaranteeing not only all the rights of women but also the LGBTQ+.

We have an informal group of women ambassadors, and we do try to give a female perspective to the work we do. In two weeks, we are going to meet, for example, with a group of female entrepreneurs organized with Doris Magsaysay-Ho of the Asia Society, to discuss issues like, “How can we better support women? What can we do that might actually bring better awareness?”

On being a woman in diplomacy:I think it’s a very, very different world right now. When I started, we were a minority of women negotiators. I have spent most of my career at the UN. And now there are a lot more women speaking out.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:

They’re very loving, lovely people, and they are very overburdened.

Ambassador Marie Fontanel


On gender rights:

It’s an everyday commitment when you have an official feminist foreign policy. And it means that we put women’s rights very high on the agenda of our diplomacy every day. We highlight many events, many initiatives for our women’s rights advocacy.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:It’s really impressive because the Philippines ranks very, very high on gender equality and women empowerment. And you can feel it. You’ve had already two female Presidents, for example, we haven’t had one so far in France … And you can feel in society, in the economic sector, business sector and politics, women are empowered, and it’s a success story. At the same time, because no situation is perfect—I would say ours is not—here you can feel also that there are other challenges. For example, sexual and reproductive rights, which is very high on our national agenda. France passed last week a constitutional reform to put the right to abortion in our Constitution, because we think that, considering the huge backlash all over the world on women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights, we had to take that stance and make this bold move.

We are very committed on sexual and reproductive rights. And we know that here in the Philippines, it’s not the case. And we have to learn from the Philippines and the Filipinas on gender equality, gender empowerment. And at the same time, there are challenges that maybe, we might partner with the Philippines to improve the situation.

Ambassador Maria Alfonsa Magdalena Geraedts


On gender rights:

In the Netherlands we find it very important that women’s rights are promoted. Because what you see worldwide is that when women start to reach their full potential and have their full rights, then economies will start performing better, and society as a whole will be better. The Netherlands has this essential element in its human rights policy—to promote women’s rights.

If you look at the gender gap index in the World Economic Forum index that was published recently, the Philippines is number 16. So, you’re not doing too badly. If you look at political and economic representation of women, you’re doing quite well. But if you look at access to health care and education, you’re doing a little bit less than other countries. That’s why we’re here also to help promote those issues.

My colleagues from the EU (European Union) have appointed me as gender champion. That means that I’m the figurehead of gender issues from the EU here. And, you know, as a woman ambassador and also mom of a daughter, I think it’s close to my heart, all these issues.On being a woman in diplomacy:Don’t be shy. Take space, like men do. Never apologize for what you’re doing. You need to be strong.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:I’m amazed. Everywhere I go, I see so many strong women in politics, economy, and also up-country. For example, yesterday I attended a meeting on women farmers. I think they’re doing a lot of work, but not appreciated. I’m amazed by what women in the Philippines do.

Ambassador Betty Palaso

Papua New Guinea

On gender rights:

We live in a world where we must show respect to each other, particularly where we have women who are not accorded the same respect as they should be. We should give them the same respect we would want given to us.

It can be a challenge in my role to put in policies to ensure that there is equality and respect and everything in the workplace, but also at home. I believe it starts at home and then you can spread that respect everywhere you go after that.

I introduced a policy that arranges for men to be leaders in this policy application so that they themselves can learn what it means to be someone promoting women’s rights in everything. And one particular man, after the first session of a meeting we went to, he came back and he was really emotional. He said, “Thank you for involving me in this. I’m now learning what I need to do at my own home and here in the workplace.” It made a difference to him.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:I can see that they’re doing a lot of things and I know they can do more. I see that they are involved in business, in professional work life. I believe the Philippines is supporting and promoting women’s rights and maybe it can be an example to other countries that are still maybe struggling in this area.

Ambassador Raduta Dana Matache


On gender rights:

I’m extremely pleased to be able to work in a country where women actually have their place in society, recognized by everybody. We realized last year that the Philippines is the country with the largest number of women ambassadors posted abroad since independence. And that’s amazing because we know how difficult it is to become an ambassador. The Philippines has made it a role model for us. I’ve met women from all areas of life.

Romania has been the leading country in promoting women’s rights. We have a very high proportion of women in STEM. This is really an achievement that we are proud of. The foreign minister of Romania is a woman. But we have a long way to go like any country; we are not there yet.

On being a woman in diplomacy:Wherever I was head of mission, I got immense support from the network of women ambassadors. Women support women. Only when women support women can we be successful. Also, my over 30 years in the Romanian Foreign Ministry taught me that we need everybody—women, men, boys, girls, other nonbinary identities in all their diversity.

I think women in diplomacy have made their mark. In a couple of days, we shall hand over a very high order of the Romanian state to a distinguished Filipina who was a trailblazer, former Foreign Secretary Delia Domingo Albert. It’s a recognition of her work, but it has helped women everywhere because we all always need role models. And she’s a role model for women and for women diplomats.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:

I think the Filipino woman is more often than not a hero. We should pay tribute to what she does. I’m not passing judgment, but very much like Romania and other countries, you are a traditional society. It is the woman’s job to take care of the family. The woman here, like everywhere, has a lot on her plate. And if you speak with any young person, there’s a woman that made a mark in their life. There’s always a woman. So, they have the motherly qualities. They are extremely creative in business and they are successful in the government. So, the advantage that you have in this country is that in every area, you have role models, women who are strong, who are proving they deserve gender equality.

Ambassador Constance See Sin Yuan


On gender rights:

I think women continue to face multiple challenges in the advancement and pursuit of gender equality and women’s rights. And there’s a need for comprehensive strategies and actions to address these legal, economic, social, and health-related barriers. Singapore women have made great strides in the past few decades. But there still needs to be done. And the whole of government has come together in terms of putting together action plans to advance women’s rights in many, many areas, including fairness in the workplace, better working arrangements and support for caregivers, for instance, and also to protect women from violence, including online exploitation. So that’s what we’re doing.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:

Filipino women have achieved very, very much in the past few decades. I think Filipino women are strong, resilient. They’re also very, very beautiful and they love their family very much, and I think they will continue to achieve great things. In this country you respect women and that is actually one reason you see so many female ambassadors, because we are confident that our female ambassadors who come here are treated with mutual respect and they will be able to do what they’re supposed to do.

Ambassador Annika Thunborg


On gender rights:

I think that Sweden is one of the countries with the highest ranking when it comes to gender equality, and we have had that for a long time. In the ‘70s, there was very much a focus on legislation in making sure women had empowerment and sexual, reproductive health rights. It continued in the ‘80s in terms of equal opportunities in the work market.

But I think what really was very important, what really made a difference, was when we started to focus on men’s role in the family. We have an equal legislation in Sweden, so that both men and women take the same number of days in terms of parental leave, and it’s expected that men do as much in the household as women do, which means that if men do more at home, men take greater responsibility for the children.

Women have a greater role to play also in the labor market. It’s really equal, and I think that that really was a game-changer, which of course has to do with the legislation. It has to do with the cultural attitudes and changes. I believe that made us one of the most equal societies in terms of gender equality in the world.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:I think that the Philippines is impressive. The Philippines ranks very high in terms of gender equality. And you see that certainly in the upper classes, in the educated middle class. I just want to quote former Foreign Secretary Delia Albert, who said that the difference in the Philippines is not between men and women; it is between women who have it all and women who have nothing at all.

Ambassador Laure Beaufils

United Kingdom

On gender rights:

We have gender equality and women’s rights at the heart of everything that we do. It runs throughout our foreign policy. As of last year, we have, for the first time, the Women and Girls Strategy which the Foreign Secretary launched, and indeed, which our Minister for Asia Pacific launched here, in Manila, during Women’s Month exactly a year ago. That means that everything that we do will be with a view to accomplishing women’s rights, and every program and intervention that we have will always be asking, “What does this mean for women and girls?” to make sure that all of our interventions are all of our strategies and programs impact positively on women’s rights and gender equality.

One of the key things we’ve been focused on is women’s political participation, in particular in the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), where we have a series of programs and we supported grassroots women to be more involved in the political process and to engage in politics themselves to run for office. Another strong focus has been around OSEC (online sexual exploitation of children) where we are key contributors. In fact, today we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of PICACC (Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center). I think there has been a really strong focus on economic participation of women and through the work that we do on SMEs (small and medium enterprises).

On the strength of the Filipino woman:

They are just extraordinary. They are incredibly dynamic, punchy. They’re confident, they’re bold and really kind people at the same time. They have this extraordinary mix of skills and gifts. That’s why it’s such a pleasure for a woman ambassador to work in the Philippines because 50 percent of my stakeholders are women as well. And that means that we get great results and great outcomes.

Ambassador MaryKay Carlson


On gender rights:

It’s not only about women, we have Women’s History Month but also we celebrate Pride Month, Black History Month. We look at diversity in all of its forms, and any group that has been disadvantaged over time. For example, today, women still make only 86 cents on the dollar compared to men doing the exact same job, and somebody said that at the rate we’re going it would take another 100 years or something to catch up. So that’s crazy, whether you’re women, whether you’re underserved from a minority, ethnic group, or LGBTQ+, it’s the system. It has not been designed to promote your rights… It’s not only about the United States. It’s global, which is why we have women ambassadors wanting to participate today to promote women’s rights. But it goes beyond women.

There are a couple of programs that we have that I’ve been thrilled to head up and to participate in: Go Negosyo, to highlight SMEs, the vast majority of which are run by women here in the Philippines. To promote mentorship for women so that they can rise to create livelihoods not just for their families, but for their communities, and for their communities as concentric circles going out to provide an economic base for growth here in the Philippines, and starting at the micro- or even nano-level of single women, individual women running small sari-sari stores. That makes a difference in those communities.

Also we run the program, a web academy for women entrepreneurs. Some of these women’s enterprises have really grown into impressive businesses starting from very small.

We also don’t only need to think about programs that are specific to women, because across everything that we do at the embassy, we always look to make sure that we’re focused on diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility for those who may have disabilities. For example, to get into our consular section, we make sure that it’s friendly for those who run on wheelchairs.

On being a woman in diplomacy:

I would say that it’s important to look for mentors and I think women helping other women is one thing, but also having great male allies, allies of all genders. That’s what’s really important and, certainly in my career, and even before I became a diplomat, having mentors that helped me along the way. One of the things or lessons that I’ve learned in my career is the importance of mentorship, but not to look for a formal mentor necessarily, but to grab those mentorship moments when you find them. Sometimes you have these “aha!” moments coming from one discussion or one interaction, and look for allies, look for people who are supportive, to help you along the way. There are obstacles, I will say. I’ve been a diplomat for 38 years.

On the strength of the Filipino woman:

Oh, wow. It’s so impressive. These women are raising families, starting businesses, working for government. You look at very senior executives, some of the top performers in the business world are women. There have been women Presidents here, so I’m impressed by the women and really thrilled to be here in the Philippines to enjoy and learn from their experience and their energy.



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