Last November 17-20, 2014, I was part of the Philippine delegation that participated in the "Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Beijing +20 Review, organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. 
 
We were the biggest delegation with over 30 women and men from government and civil society organizations led by prominent members of the cabinet (Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chair Patricia Licuanan and Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) Chair Remedios Rikken), foreign service (Amb. Jocelyn Batoon-Garcia and Amb. Rosario Manalo) and congress (Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela, Rep. Malu Acosta-Alba of the first district of Bukidnon and Rep. Chona Cruz-Gonzales of CIBAC).  Other members of the delegation where from the departments of justice, health, planning, foreign affairs and agriculture; anti-poverty, presidential communications operations office and human rights committee; while NGOs with women advocacies were well represented.  As vice-president of the Women’s Business Council Philippines, my area of interest was women and the economy.
 
As a backgrounder, this conference was held to review the implementation by both government and other stakeholders, of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) that was first set into motion during the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China.  This platform defined “a policy framework for women’s empowerment as well as a road map for achieving gender equality and women’s rights.”  National and regional groups came together to discuss critical issues as well as reviewed continuing commitments that will be presented in New York in March 2015 for the 20thanniversary of the platform.   The Beijing PFA actually affirmed or reinforced the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.
 
Over 40 of the 53 member states and nine associate members of ESCAP were present to improve the language or the essence of the Ministerial Declaration focused on accelerating the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern:women and poverty, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict,  women and the economy, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, women in power and decision-making, human rights of women, women and the media, women and the environment and the girl-child.
 
As a first-timer in such a conference, I was impressed with the camaraderie, mutual pride and collaborations between government and NGOs. I witnessed how we were one of the most vocal and passionate contributors to the discussions and I attribute this and affirm the hard work of PCW’s Executive Director Emmeline Verzosa and the Philippine Permanent Representative to ESCAP Amb. Jocelyn Batoon-Garcia.  Most of the members of the delegation still met until midnight the day before the sessions to make sure relevant details were in place and we were clear on what we wanted to achieve.
 
While I have been in several international events in the company of empowered women in business, I felt I have lacked some awareness, in very important issues beyond business and the economy, much in the same way perhaps, that those involved in health, migration or armed conflict might not see the issue of women and the economy as “weighty” enough compared to their particular areas of concern.  Though all women are well-aware that discrimination, harassment and other forms of inequality do happen everywhere including the workplace, it is time to wear different lenses that now look into the bigger picture of what it is truly like for women to achieve gender equality beyond my own perspective and familiarity with gender pay gaps and corporate glass ceilings.
 
That bigger picture must look into how economic empowerment can reduce (or eliminate) human trafficking and exploitation, which are really issues of poverty.  This kind of economic empowerment should not just look into equal opportunities at work but should also recognize women’s roles in the domestic abode where most are unpaid or low-paid but whose contributions are indispensable in a productive economy.   Ownership of land or other assets as well as access to finance and training for skills must likewise take on a gender perspective of equality that recognizes particular needs of women in balancing work and home, particularly among microenterprises, which are 90% owned by women.   Finally, women in business should be part of the bigger effort to address migrant workers’ issues, knowing that they are vulnerable to trafficking, forced labor and other forms of exploitation.
 
Women must claim this empowerment for ourselves and those of us who can speak for those who have been disempowered, must do our roles.
 
Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc.  She will be conducting the 20thDelivering Outstanding Service program on July 21-22, 2016 in Makati.  For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.netor call (02) 584-5858 or (02) 412-0034.