Republic of the Philippines

50 Hobson Street, Thorndon, Wellington, New Zealand 6011

PHL Embassy hosts forum on Women in Gender and Development for International Women's Month in Wellington, New Zealand

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o celebrate Women’s Month in New Zealand, the Philippine Embassy hosted a Forum on Women in Gender and Development at the “Ang Bahay” (Philippine Ambassador’s Official Residence) on 16 April 2015. Nearly 50 women from the Filipino community from different parts of the North Island of New Zealand and other countries, Philippine Embassy personnel and families attended the Forum. The guest speaker during the forum was Ms. Joy Dunsheath, Justice of the Peace and National Vice President of the United Nations Association in New Zealand (UNANZ).

Minister and Consul General Arlene Gonzales-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 Virginia H. Benavidez warmly welcomed the Forum guests to the “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, Featherston, and Wellington to be part of the Forum. She pointed out that the Philippine Commission on Women has enjoined the Department of Foreign Affairs to undertake activities for Women’s Month. The theme for 2015 is “Juana, Desisyon Mo ay Mahalaga sa Kinabukasan ng Bawa’t Isa, Ikaw Na!” which aims to highlight the crucial role and contributions of all women leaders who passionately led and continue to advance women’s advocacies. Ambassador Benavidez emphasized that the celebration of 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. She shared the rankings of the Philippines and New Zealand in the Gender Equity Index of the World Economic Forum, the crucial role of women in the Philippines and how this 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. Ambassador Benavidez also provided an overview on the Philippines’ hosting of APEC this year as well the role of women in APEC with women’s economic empowerment and greater inclusion of women in the regional economy high on APEC’s agenda.

After Ambassador Benavidez’s introduction of the guest speaker, Ms. Dunsheath presented the work of UNANZ stating that it is the people's movement for the United Nations in New Zealand. It promotes and supports the aims and objectives of the United Nations and is committed to the ideals embodied in the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UNANZ is a means by which the principles of the UN Charter can be shared widely and its vision realized in New Zealand. It is a national community volunteer organization, made up of regional branches, a youth association, and affiliates across New Zealand. UNANZ is also a registered charity, and a member of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. Membership to UNANZ is open to members of the public and select community groups and organizations.

Ms. Dunsheath enhanced the participants’ knowledge, insights and information about the United Nations. She stated that it is often said that if the UN didn't exist, someone would invent it because the UN, as an almost universal forum, is the best place for solutions to global problems to be devised. She cited her work in a committee which aids women refugees and displaced women by raising funds which is used to provide the women short term grants for refresher courses to assist them in their re-entry into their professional field as well as for language training and other courses to help facilitate their integration in their new countries.The committee also provides moral support for the women to help them adjust to life in a different country. Some of the women assisted flee from gender related atrocities from their home countries, such as rape, honor crimes, forced marriage, and female mutilation. Others fear for their lives due to persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group. Ms. Dunsheath stated that for women such as these “education is the key to almost everything” because education empowers women. She emphasized three key messages stating that if one has a daughter, granddaughter or niece, she encouraged the Forum participants to “tell her, firstly that educations is the key to almost everything and inspire her to achieve; secondly, tell her to ignore negatives and to show courage and persistence; and thirdly, tell her to always be kind and make a commitment to empower the marginalized and the vulnerable for the common good”.

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 ensued during the Question and Answer portion of the Forum. 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 the wider society of New Zealand 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 were some of the topics shared as questions, comments, and insights.

As a token of appreciation to Ms. Dunsheath, Ambassador Benavidez gave her an especially handcrafted pearls made by the women in the communities in the Philippines. Ms. Dunsheath and the participants thanked Ambassador Benavidez for a highly informative and interactive forum, for the valuable 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. As Ms. Dunsheath stated, “it was a superb opportunity to engage with a vibrant and interesting group of women. I enjoyed meeting and talking with so many people of all ages.”

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