Cutthroat as the political arena is in the country, Senator Risa Hontiveros makes her voice heard with unflinching grace and determined purpose.
Driving up to Quezon City for an interview and photoshoot with Senator Risa Hontiveros, I was not sure what it would be like talking to the public servant. On an early Saturday, I worried about taking up a busy woman’s time, especially during a weekend, knowing that if it were me, I would still be sleeping. Once we got there, we set up on the ground floor before she walked down the stairs in an all-red dress and matching bolero. Bright and inviting, with a welcoming smile, we got the shoot going.
Being one of only 24 senators in the country and with a firm and progressive voice in the political arena, one would think it takes a stern demeanor to thrive in the Senate. Yet here she was, a figure that I have always seen in the news. In the messy backdrop of politics and the way we’ve become used to how our leaders present themselves, I was always impressed with her calm and collected manner. Always straightforward in the points she wants to make, almost effortless. To make her voice heard, she shares, “I keep raising it, using it to focus the public’s perception of issues through the women and gender lenses; if I’m interrupted, I keep speaking until I complete what I intended to express.” She says that knowing how to be understood also comes with knowing how to understand others. “I also keep my silence, to listen, to think, and to feel more. When we are given power, as I know I have been as a senator of the Republic, we mustn’t be afraid to hold space. Holding space is an important responsibility in our power bestowed by the people, that in the long run will ensure they are welcomed in spaces of democracy.”
Another topic we talked about is the critical role of women in positions of power. Odd as the timing was, the day of the photoshoot was also when news broke of the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Risa and I exchanged our mutual admiration for the feminist associate justice and the work she has done in pushing for women’s rights in the United States. On women’s empowerment in our country compared to others, Risa believes “It is loftily articulated [here in the Philippines], though sometimes only sentimentally or in a tokenistic way, we have come a long way on some fronts and still have a long way to go on others. Other countries may not have such inspiring formulations, but have also claimed their unique victories and still face their particular challenges.” In the local context she says, “Reflected in our political and economic systems are the strong gender stereotypes of men and the false dichotomy between reproductive and productive work… The problem with culture and generational values are that they solidify. People are very stubborn about the things they think to be true, even if they are harmful.” Expressing it as a daunting task and she knows that time and collective effort will make the fight worth it. “The work of fighting for women’s rights comes with the back-breaking effort of chipping away at the giant blocks of sexism and misogyny every day—in the stories I tell, in the laws we pass, in the women we defend, the structures we dismantle, down to the way I carry myself. It is with everything I do that I carry that responsibility to my fellow-women with me.”
Read the full story written by Ysmael Suarez in Lifestyle Asia’s October 2020 issue titled, “The Future is Female.”