Republic of the Philippines

50 Hobson Street, Thorndon, Wellington, New Zealand 6011

Forum on Women and Development amplifies voices and participation of Women from the Philippines and other countries for women's month in Wellington, New Zealand

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To celebrate Women’s Month in New Zealand, the Philippine Embassy hosted a Forum on Women and Gender and Development at the “Ang Bahay” (Philippine Ambassador’s residence) on 28 March 2014 at Karori, Wellington. Nearly 50 women from the Filipino community from different parts of the North Island and other countries, post graduate scholars from Victoria University, Philippine Embassy personnel and families attended the Forum that enhanced the participants’ knowledge, insights and information and elicited interactive discussions and sharing of views on women migrants’ rights, issues and empowerment and ways to more actively engage women in legislation on various key areas affecting their work and stay in New Zealand. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez invited Ms. Hellen Swales, Chair for Legislation, the New Zealand Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) and Upper Hutt City Councillor and Ms. Noline Reisch, BPW, Mana to be the guest speakers.

Minister and Consul General Arlene Macaisa welcomed the guests and spoke on the significance of the occasion and moderated the programme. Ms. Bianca Benavidez, the Ambassador’s daughter, led the opening prayer. Ambassador Benavidez warmly welcomed everyone to “Ang Bahay” where Filipino ambience, atmosphere and furnishings reflect the warmth of friendship and the renowned hospitality of the Filipino people and thanked them for taking time and travelling from different places from the Upper and Lower Hutt, Palmerston North, Kapiti Coast and Wellington to be part of the Forum. Women’s month each year is a wonderful way of highlighting the contributions of women all over the world to milestones in history and society and as key drivers to growth and development. Ambassador Benavidez greeted the audience in the Filipino and Maori languages and shared with them the environment, the gender equality index ranking and the attributes of excellence, empathy and EQ and equilibrium that make women from the Philippines and all over the world a strong, spirited, steady and supportive influencer and anchor in the family, nation and across all sectors. As she pointed out, the crucial role of women in the Philippines is very much evident in the executive, legislative and judicial branches and various agencies in government, the business community and in all sectors of society as well as the increasing number of women senior diplomats and Ambassadors who constitute more than 40% of the Philippine foreign service. Women in the diplomatic corps in New Zealand are likewise making their own mark as there are currently 14 resident women Heads of Diplomatic Mission comprising 32.5% of the total number of Ambassadors and High Commissioners in New Zealand. Ambassador Benavidez stated that “Filipino women in New Zealand, back home in the Philippines and all over the world have certainly gained a reputation for being excellent in their respective fields, professions and organizations. They carry with them the positive work ethics, sacrificial service, ability to communicate well, pleasant disposition, trustworthiness and willingness to participate in church, community, organizations and associations activities.” She requested each and every woman present at the Forum to introduce themselves and share their professions, positions, interests, advocacies and involvement in organizations, groups and activities.

After Ambassador Benavidez’s introduction of the guest speakers, Ms. Hellen Swales and Ms. Reisch presented New Zealand’s comprehensive work in the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the various resolutions that BPW has gained success in passing in the international arena and having these adopted by the UN and the recognition given to BPW’s President Freda Miriklis as the spokesperson on all gender related issues for the UN. They expounded on the importance of promoting greater awareness, understanding and engagement on migrant women’s rights and having their voices heard in the Select Committee in Parliament and shared the various pathways for submitting legislations individually or collectively on issues that directly impact women and their families. There were spirited discussions, comments and exchange of views between the speakers and the participants on a whole range of issues focusing on health and safety, equal pay, gender sensitivity, participation in the political life in the country, access to greater decision-making, increasing influence of women and importance of active involvement of Filipino and migrant communities in legislation submissions and their continuing roles and responsibilities in building a multicultural and ethnically diverse nation founded on respect for human rights, rules based approaches, good governance and equality for all. Ms. Swales and Ms. Reisch expressed their willingness and readiness to assist Filipino and other communities on how to go about making submissions, providing inputs and linking up with the appropriate people and groups in the domestic and international arenas on matters on women’s development and empowerment. The good rapport, keen interest and active interaction among the members of the audience, Ms. Swales and Ms. Reisch continued during the ensuing dinner fellowship.

As a token of appreciation to Ms. Swales and Ms. Reisch, Ambassador Benavidez gave them especially handcrafted pearls made by the women in the communities in the Philippines. Ms. Arla Fontamillas, a Filipino scholar at the Victoria University in Wellington gave the closing remarks saying that the Forum enlightened them further in how women from the Philippines, different ethnic communities and migrant groups can continue to be key partners and participants for progress and stability in the domestic, regional and international arenas.

Ms. Swales, Ms. Reisch and participants thanked Ambassador Benavidez for a highly informative and interactive forum, for the wonderful opportunity to connect and engage with one another in pursuing the collective goal of promoting women’s rights, gender equality and advancement of women across all sectors and nationalities and the enjoyable evening of fellowship and partaking of special “Ang Bahay” cuisine and distinctive Filipiniana experience. “We at the Philippine Embassy are grateful to all those who have made it possible for us to celebrate Women’s month depicting “Herstory” and to enable women from the Filipino and other ethnic communities to network with each other and open doors and connect with BPW for positive change and help make a practical difference in people’s lives in their respective home countries and their adoptive country of New Zealand,” Ambassador Benavidez stated.

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