I am a college graduate. I am not a wage-earner.
I was born in the 80s. I am a housewife.
Considering the norms in this age and given the closing gender gap in the workforce, I might as well consider myself a deviant.
While opportunities for personal growth and development, and career advancement were offered me almost a decade ago, I chose to stay home and take care of my children. Did I make the right decision? Did it make me happy? If you had asked me these questions back then, my answer would have been a resounding Yes.
After hearing powerful, independent women share their stories at the Asia Women’s Summit 2017 at Marriott Hotel, Pasay City last January 25, I began to wonder if I made the right choices.
“There is no substitute for hard work.” – Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales
Ombudsman Carpio-Morales always wanted to become a regional trial court judge. She entered the University of the Philippines College of Law at the time when there were very few women. When she finally applied for the post of regional trial court judge in 1982, she was rejected.
In the public sector, only the toughest survive. So, Morales worked harder. While she admitted that she was not a very religious person, she took the advice of a colleague by praying the novena and adding, “God please make me a regional trial court judge anywhere in the Philippines.”
She persevered and was eventually appointed as judge of Pili, Camarines Sur by Former President Ferdinand Marcos. While Pili is nowhere proximate to where she lived, she considered the appointment as an answered prayer. After all, Pili still fell under “anywhere in the country”.
Ombudsman Carpio-Morales sacrificed weekdays away from her children, who were aged eight and 10 then.
As a mother, I know that could not have been easy. She left Sunday evenings for her job and had to deal with seeing her children in tears whenever she left for the long commute to her workplace. She only had the weekends left to bond with her family.
Her experience in Pili taught her the virtues of humility, tenacity and perseverance and is one of the reasons she is where she is now: the fifth ombudsman of the Philippines. She rose from the ranks, stood out and still made her mark in the male-dominated arena of judicial law while fulfilling her role in her family.
“Focus on your goal and you will get there.” – Cora Ballard
As the current chairman and president of Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) Philippines, Cora Ballard’s humble beginnings demonstrated that nothing is impossible. She knew that “I want to have my own business… I want to be somebody and I will.” And she did just that.
Ballard came from a big family from Panglao, Bohol. Her childhood in the province was void of any privileges and luxuries but her mind and heart were determined to overcome her circumstances.
Of the 10 siblings, she was always the one her father, a construction foreman, called upon to study blueprints after blueprints. The chore was something she did not enjoy but she obliged her father’s requests.
Today, she remained strong despite past challenges in education, marriage and finances. Within two years, she turned around a company—a construction company dominated by men—that was once facing a $2 million debt.
As a Filipina accountant, she broke barriers when she later joined RLB’s board of directors, where most were male, foreign engineers. She grew her local organization’s size from 50 to 400 and established its presence across the country.
Her early exposure in the industry did not ignite any interest in engineering but it gave her an early foundation on who she is today—a big boss in the construction industry.
This made me realize that the only time I pursued and achieved a career goal has been decades ago.
“Love yourself.” – Rayla Melchor Santos
I am SAM Foundation co-founder Rayla Melchor Santos once had to step out of her comfort zone to embrace her true self.
She grew up comfortably in a close-knit family, received a good education, and had the opportunity to see the world. She fulfilled her role and obligations as a daughter, wife and mother dutifully. However, after 18 years of staying in a marriage to keep her family intact, she decided to keep herself intact for a change.
It was not an easy one. Her new life began after acknowledging that she was in an unhealthy marriage. By stepping out of the relationship, she knew she was going against what she perceived was a societal norm and against her own image of a happily married woman.
Today, she is in a good place in her life and has learned to love herself more.
Taking lessons from her personal experience, Santos is now teaching and empowering young children on how to make better decisions in life through her I Am SAM Foundation.
Because of this vision of “a world of whole, happy and productive women and children who embrace their self-worth and are free from any form of abuse,” Santos has been giving talks to students in public schools inside and the outside the country.
“Self-worth is the greatest tool you can give a child,” said Santos, a recipient of the Global Educator Award from the United Nations due to her advocacy.
As I listened to her talk confidently and watched how she gracefully carried herself, I wondered if I lost that spark during the many years I’ve been focusing my energy on segregating the laundry by family member, ensuring that the go-grow-and-glow food groups are represented on the dining table and doing manual tasks that were, well, monetarily uncompensated as a housewife.
Growing up, I hang onto my parents’ every words, directions and opinions. I was expected to do this and that, act this way and that, and I did my best to conform. This carried on in my married life.
Did I make the right choices? I did what I thought was right at that time—and I must continue to do what I think is right for me. So my answer now is still a Yes.
My income-generating career is on hold, yes, but my growth and learning continued on during the years I took on the role of a stay-at-home mother and wife. Mine is a different story. And so is yours or your mother’s or your sister’s or that of the other women in your life. Theirs could be just as inspiring as these three strong women’s are.
So, am I a conformist or a deviant? Labels are actually subjective. My answer may be different from yours.