By Lalaine Siruno, Core Member SB Juniors Group & Researcher Maastricht University 

On 11 March 20203, Stichting Bayanihan (SB), the Philippine Women Centre in the Netherlands, once again took the lead and brought together the community of Filipino women in the Netherlands, friends, and supporters in commemorating International Women’s Day (IWD). The well-attended event, held at the Doña Daria Kenniscentrum Emancipatie in Rotterdam, saw an afternoon filled with food for thought and the stomach, as well as camaraderie, inspiration, and a renewed call to action to #EmbraceEquity. 

Agnes van de Beek-Pavia, SB Board Member, formally opened the afternoon’s celebration with an inspirational message underscoring, among other things, the importance of self-acceptance, self-confidence, and self-love. She reminded all present that each one has their own stories of courage, sacrifice, honour, as well as frustrations, disappointments, resentments, and challenges – all sources of strength and inspiration, also for other people. 

Diana Oosterbeek-Latoza, SB Founding Chairperson & Social Cultural Worker, welcomed everyone and stressed yet again the need for gender equity and a continued demand for equal rights. Embracing equity is about fairness, respect, and non-discrimination. Celebrating IWD is an opportunity not just to amplify women’s voices but to also to promote diversity and inclusivity. 

Together with volunteers, the SB IWD organising committee put together an excellent programme revolving around the theme of Women Empowerment & Gender Equality 2.0, with the objective of providing a a more in-depth understanding of today’s technologically driven society and raising awareness of emerging technologies and what they mean for women and their roles within the family, the workplace, and the community. 

Myra Zymelka-Colis, SB Board Secretary, Master Student International Technology Law (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Founding Chairperson (MABIKAs Foundation), & Awardee, 100 Most Influential Filipina Woman in the World, led the discussion with a presentation on emerging technologies and their impact on achieving gender equality. She pointed out the new, innovative, and rapidly developing technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology have huge potentials to change and shape every aspect of our lives. As women and members of women organisations, she outlined a call to action consists of three elements – educating and raising awareness, promoting digital literacy, and advocating for inclusive technologies. In a demonstration of AI’s capabilities, Myra shared a ChatGPT generated message: “Empowerment begins with awareness, for knowledge is power and agency is strength. As women, let us rise and lead the way, towards a future of gender equality, empowered by technology.” 

Marisar Ivy Cabatingan, Legal Officer & Gender & Development Focus Person at the Philippine Embassy in The Hague, and Pendong Jalandoni, SB Legal Adviser and Lawyer Specialising in Family, Labour and Migrant Law at Schoolplein Advocaten in Utrecht then discussed the role of Philippine and Dutch laws in achieving gender equality. 

Atty. Cabatingan enumerated Philippine legislations catering to the rights of women – among them the 105-day Expanded Maternity Leave Law (RA 11210, 2019); Assistance to Small-Scare Women Entrepreneurs (RA 7882, 1995); Prohibition on Discrimination Against Women (RA 6725, 1989); Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act (RA 9262, 2004); the Anti-Rape Law (RA 8353, 1997); and the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act (RA 8505, 1998). She zoomed in on the 2009 Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act 9710) which is a comprehensive women’s human rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination against women by recognising, protecting, fulfilling and promoting the rights of Filipino women, especially those in marginalised sector. 

For his part, Atty. Jalandoni who sent a recorded video presentation, discussed some of the laws in the Netherlands regarding domestic violence. Domestic violence including common assault, rape, sexual assault, and stalking  is covered by general provisions of criminal law. Intimate partner violence (violence committed by someone from the domestic or family circle of the victim) is considered an aggravated circumstance that can result in longer penalties. But some victims of domestic abuse do not report to the authorities for fear of losing the residence permits sponsored by their partners. Atty. Jalandoni stressed that this should not be the case as there is a possibility to apply for a new residence permit based on humanitarian grounds. Undocumented migrants can also report abuses and file criminal cases. In all instances, it is important to note that as there are usually no witnesses in cases of domestic abuse, the burden of proof may pose as a problem, and it is essential to collect and document evidence to support the filing of a case.

The second part of the afternoon was devoted to book readings and presentations by three Filipino women authors and active members of the migrant community: Unwanted Adventure with Big C by Myra Zymelka-Colis, Chasing Windmills by Maya Butalid, and Travels, Travails & Triumphs of Igorot Cordillerans in Europe, a collection of essays, poems, songs and anecdotes written by 35 Igorot Cordillerans in Europe presented by Yvonne Belen. 

Myra Zymelka-Colis chronicles her experience as a breast cancer survivor and provides a powerful living testimony of God’s love in Unwanted Adventure with Big C. The cancer diagnosis became a catalyst for introspection and self-reflection, and brought about these “seven gems” for a transformative life suffused with faith, hope, and love: 

  1. Acceptance is key to new and positive beginnings. 
  2. Positive thinking is not the same as passive thinking.
  3. Value others as much as you value yourself, because the people around you are the extension of yourself. 
  4. Beware! The heart can be deceitful and wicked! 
  5. To find healing, focus on life, not on the disease.
  6. Forgive the past, live the present and stay hopeful for a better tomorrow. 
  7. Listen to your inner self, it somehow already knows who you are and where you’re going from.

A breast cancer diagnosis was also pivotal in the writing of Chasing Windmills, a fascinating collection of stories which follows Maya Butalid’s journey from Cebu City in the Philippines to Tilburg in the Netherlands. Among others, Maya is an SB pioneer volunteer, seasoned political activist, and former raadslid of Gemeente Tilburg. Her book does not follow the typical memoir with a listing of life events in chronological. Instead, the book is organised thematically covering these five topics: 

  1. The struggle 
  2. Being part of Dutch society
  3. Identity
  4. Roots
  5. Touching Base 

Living in the Netherlands for almost four decades and recognising that migrant life is far from easy, Maya has successfully integrated and navigated Dutch society, but has also always worked with and for fellow Filipinos and maintained a close connection with the Philippines. Chasing Windmills according to Maya shows how she continuously creates and recreates her identity and is a testament to her effort to live her best life based on God’s principles. 

Finally, Yvonne Belen, Secretary of MABIKAs Foundation in the Netherlands, presented Travels, Travails & Triumphs of Igorot Cordillerans in Europe, a collection of essays, poems, songs and anecdotes written by 35 Igorot Cordillerans in several European countries in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. What motivates a person to pursue a life-long dream in a foreign land? This is one of the questions addressed in the book, where the filial in the Igorot tribe takes centre-stage. The authors narrate their adventures and difficulties and share their happiest and scariest moments. Ultimately, the book illustrates how their responses relate to and remain deeply rooted to their Igorot ethnicity, forever bonded, and bound by it.  

These very short summaries admittedly do not do these excellent books justice, and readers are encouraged to get in touch with the authors or SB, for information on how to secure copies. 

The SB IWD celebration would not be complete without a salo-salo, and attendees enjoyed a delectable merienda and hapunan courtesy of the organisers. Several lucky attendees also won raffle prizes sponsored by ever-generous SB members. Everybody took home a long-stemmed rose from SB, and a purple tote bag emblazoned with #EmbraceEquity from the Philippine Embassy. All in all, definitely a day of celebration, education, camaraderie, and community. And yes, leave it to strong, capable women to plan and execute such a successful day! ‘Til  the next one! 

You can view more photos HERE at the Stichting Bayanihan Facebook page. Our special big thanks to Ms. Salome aan den Toorn-Panoy for capturing all these special moments.