Excel V. Dyquiangco
From Amelia Earhart to Florence Nightingale to Mother Teresa, we love women whose stories have not only become inspiration but have left an indelible legacy in the world. Society would not have evolved as quickly and rigorously if weren’t for the pioneering efforts and actionable examples set by empowered women of substance, strength, and character. As Eleanor Roosevelt says, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”
Filipino and non-Filipino, those who are still with us and those who have passed, here are several women who have looked at fear straight in the face and managed to make possible what seemed to be irrefutably otherwise.
For the first few years of her life, Malala Yousafzai lived a peaceful and tranquil life in her nation of Pakistan. When the Taliban took control of their once touristic town, she began to defy their rules and regulations by saying that women should have the right to basic education. In her speech in September 2008 entitled, “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to education?” she talked about honor and justice. Because of these resistances, she was shot in the head but survived. Now, she stands as a paragon of women empowerment not just for people in the Middle East and Asia, but for the world entire.
Also called Tamar of Georgia or Tamar the Great, Queen Tamar reigned as Queen regnant of Georgia from 1184 to 1213. Upon the death of her father, George III, in 1178, she faced extreme opposition. Through her indefatigable political will and military savvy, she successfully neutralized these challenges and ushered in what up to now is referred to as the Golden Age of Georgia. Such is her strength that even modern-day Georgians refer to her as “King” Tamar.
In a forum attended by thought leaders, Geena Romero hushed the audience with these words: “I was assigned boy at birth based on my genitalia.” The air was thick with shock at first, but by the end of her speech, she had captured the support and admiration of the entire room, including that of her agent Ron Gerard, of Next Management. Like many transgendered women, Geena’s journey into full womanhood started at an early age. She started competing in beauty pageants when she was 15. Now, she is widely recognized as one of the world’s strongest voices in the subject of transgender rights.
Aisa Mijeno garnered global recognition after her face-to-face discussion with US President Barrack Obama and billionaire Jack Ma during the APEC Summit held in Manila last year. She is credited as the inventor of the Sustainable Alternative Lighting lamp, or SALt lamp – a low-cost, sustainable, and environment-friendly light source that is powered by salt. In an interview, Aisa recalls, “I used to be part of Greenpeace Philippines and did personal immersions/volunteers across rural communities, and there I learned so many things. Most of these people are so poor and underprivileged that they endure long hours of walking just to get kerosene for their lamps.”
It all started with a bus ride. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger during a ride on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. That small act of defiance turned Rosa into an icon for the civil rights movement in America. Her outright refusal to subscribe to society’s racial expectations gave the African-American community the impetus it needed to proactively bring about cultural change.
An American mixed martial artist in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweight division and also a professional kickboxer and boxer, Holly Holm is known for ending what seemed to be the unstoppable dominance of Ronda Rousey. Her victory against Ronda is considered by many as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. But beyond her skills in the octagon, Holly has received praises for her sportsmanship, humility, and grace – the complete antithesis of Ronda, who was as famous for her trash talk she was for her Judo. She did not only defeat Ronda – she defeated the notion that a female fighter needs to display “masculine” aggression to be considered a worthy champ.
Nieves Fernandez’s life story is basically an action film. Once a school teacher, Nieves came to work with the guerillas in Tacloban to form an aggressive resistance movement against the Japanese in the second World War. She led a 110-strong battalion of natives armed with knives and makeshift guns. Such trouble she gave to the Japanese that a bounty of 10,000 pesos was placed on her head, which was considered a huge amount at the time. She is the only known Filipino female guerilla leader.
Most lauded for her role in ousting two disgraced presidents – former presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada – Eugenia Apostol is an iconic figure in Philippine politics. She is also revered by many as an innovative leader in the publishing industry. She was one of the recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award and was one the founders of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Also known as Triệu Thị Trinh, Lady Triệu is known as the Vietnamese Joan of Arc. She was a ferocious female warrior who fought the Chinese army in the 3rd century. By the time she was 21, Lady Triệu was already a veteran of over 30 battles. She once said “I’d like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man.”
Born to a German father and a Filipina mother, Michele Bumgarner started her career as a race car driver at the tender age of nine, following in the footsteps of her dad and her brother. From then on, she has become one of the sport’s most respected and admired figures. Her current goal is to become the first female to win the IndyCar series. “Hopefully I’ll also be the first Asian, and First Pinay to do that, so yeah,” she says in an interview with Pep PH. “I mean it’s a big goal, but I think it is very much plausible. I just have to keep working at it.”