DISRUPTing Hollywood Keynote: Former U. S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas (December 14, 2014)

U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas. Former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. Currently serving as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe.

U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas. Former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. Currently serving as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe.

The Raquel Family, Members of the Filipina Women's Network, Tita Rocio -

Good afternoon. I stand before you humbled in the midst of these incredible stories of Filipina women.

I am pleased that this book is drawing attention to one of the most important tasks facing the global community today: empowering women to realize their full economic potential. Quite literally, the future prosperity of all our countries depends on it.

And showing that Filipina women are succeeding on the global stage is a critical part of the narrative.

Increasing women's involvement in the economic life of a country is not a luxury for wealthy nations. Quite the opposite is true. The empowerment of all women is an imperative for all countries. As Hilary Clinton once said: "No society can achieve its full potential when half the population is denied the opportunity achieve theirs." The World Economic Forum annually puts out the Gender Gap Report which measures the progress of men and women in terms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political participation, health and survival. This report has consistently shown that the countries that are doing the best are countries where men and women are closer to equal achievement in all of these areas.

So the issue before us is what can we do - whether collectively or as individuals? The first thing we need to do is to be vocal - women need to "disrupt" - to talk openly and honestly about the obstacles to women being empowered. And we need men to be included in these "kwentuhans". Solutions cannot be found until the problem is put squarely on the table. Today's event honoring Filipina heroes is an excellent opportunity to advance the dialogue.

Hundreds of studies have been about women's empowerment. Education is a recurring theme that emerges as one of the most important keys to unlocking the potential of women across the globe. Education is a lifelong process that includes the path from primary to tertiary education, but also includes vocational skills development and professional peer mentoring and counseling. It is common around the world, for example, to see rural women benefit less often from vocational outreach efforts than men. As a result, women remain trapped in low-income jobs that tend to reinforce prejudicial perceptions about them and their potential economic contributions to the community.

In fact, many vocational programs around the world are beginning to target women more seriously. No amount of education and training can solve the challenges facing women if society cannot protect the health and safety of girls and women. Women will never gain their full dignity and young girls will never have the chance to succeed as women unless gender-based violence is stamped out.

As I read "DISRUPT", I learned about women who are leaders in business, in their communities, in their families and in government. I read about smart women who volunteer time and resources to promote the well-being of others. I learned about women whose skills have been finely honed on the whetstones of education and professional experience. And as I look out at this audience, I see the potential for a network of expertise; I see potential sponsors and mentors, and therein lies the potential resolution to some of the challenges I just mentioned.

Many Filipina women are already out there changing lives day in and day out.

Just think of Cristeta Comerford who went from working at a salad bar to working within the White House within ten years of arriving in America. I was touched, as I am sure everyone here was, to read Janet Stickmon's chapter "Blackapina".

I winced while reading Lita Watanabe's chapter because I know a Filipina who was reluctant to tell people in Manila that she had spent a decade in Japan because they thought she was a domestic or something else when she was, in fact, a computer engineer.

I greatly enjoyed reading about my friend Ambassador Patty Paez, who offers the best practices of the Department of Foreign Affairs and was a tough and fair advocate for the Philippines during my tenure.

We know now that having role models and networks makes a difference - we need more like Loida Nicolas Lewis - we simply having to get more women doing it.

First Lady Michelle Obama has made the acute observation that "true leadership often happens with the smallest acts, in the most unexpected places, by the most unlikely individuals." I think the First Lady's definition of "true leadership" describes many of the women who will be honored here today; women coming from all walks of life and making a difference. Some might say "ordinary women doing extraordinary things," - but all can and should be an example to us. From those in the most exalted political positions to the most humble who work tirelessly to provide nourishment and care for their children - all have some knowledge to impart, some skill to pass on.

Mga kababayan, we have an obligation to those who come after us - and to all the brave women featured in this groundbreaking book - to do what we can to make a difference. I am sure that every women in this room can think of someone who inspired her or helped her; I am sure that every woman in this room has learned something that might help a sister or daughter to succeed, di ba? 

- DISRUPTing Hollywood Keynote Speaker
Former U. S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas
December 14, 2014