Clockwise from top right: Philippine Ambassador to Thailand Millicent Cruz-Paredes, U.S. Embassy International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Director Kelia Cummins, and New Zealand Ambassador Peter Kell

In celebration of National Women’s Month, female leaders and champions of gender equality gathered at the virtual Mabini Dialogue, “Women in Leadership: Fearless, Focused, and Forward-looking,” on March 30, to discuss women’s empowerment and political participation. The event was a joint undertaking of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the US Embassy in the Philippines.

Three distinguished speakers provided insights and explored the women’s critical role in leadership, political participation, and promotion of gender equality.

New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Kell opened his remarks with a Mauri proverb: “He waka eke noa (We are all in this together),” which he explained reflects New Zealand’s inclusive approach to addressing the pandemic and promoting gender equality. According to Ambassador Kell, New Zealand faces the pandemic as a “team of five million,” highlighting that every citizen has an essential role in fighting COVID-19. 

The value of inclusion is similarly promulgated in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), which adopted the Our People Strategy in 2017. This strategy included vital programs that address gender inequality in the Ministry’s policies, processes, and practices.

US Embassy International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Director Kelia Cummins emphasized the importance of women in law enforcement. She stressed that women’s participation as criminal justice practitioners increases the effectiveness of the justice system. This is evidenced by the positive correlation between the percentage of women in the police force, the reporting of crimes, and efforts to counter violent extremism.

Stressing that “it is time to translate our noble commitment into actions,” Director Cummins noted that the White House recently established a Gender Policy Council that makes gender equity and equality a top priority for every federal agency.  Director Cummins pointed out that each individual should practice inclusion and treat everyone with fairness and respect. She added that everyone should practice allyship to eliminate equality barriers that vulnerable groups face in the workplace.

In sharing her own experience in rising through the ranks, Philippine Ambassador to Thailand Millicent Cruz-Paredes said that challenges to women’s full participation in all aspects of life are not limited to discrimination, harassment, and sexism.  There are hidden unique challenges, and these challenges grow as one advances in the workplace. In facing these challenges, she asserted that “empowered women empower  women,” as they truly understand the struggles other women face.

During the open forum, when asked what distinctive qualities women have that make them good leaders, Ambassador Paredes challenged participants to look at the issue differently, because leadership is not gendered.  Women do not need to be more like men, she observed, they simply have to effectively meet the organization’s objectives.

The program concluded with messages from top women leaders in the United States and the Philippines.  US Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted the importance of women’s participation in strengthening democracy, asserting that “the status of women is the status of democracy.”  Philippine Vice President Maria Leonora Robredo encouraged everyone to create more spaces for women to thrive, succeed, lead, and build a better normal that is fairer, kinder, inclusive, equitable, and empowering.

The Mabini Dialogue was attended by the Department of Foreign Affairs’ and FSI’s officers and staff, Foreign Service Posts, the diplomatic corps, representatives of select government agencies and non-government organizations, students, and media.