To celebrate International Women’s Month, we bring you The Asian Parent’s Marvelous Asian Mums 2021, featuring inspiring mothers who made a meaningful contribution to improving the lives of moms and other women alike. One of the honorees this year is Senator Risa Hontiveros.
In this article, you’ll read:
- Senator Risa Hontiveros’s biography
- How Senator Risa’s experience as a solo parent led her to support the Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act
- Some of the benefits of the Expanded Maternity Leave Law
- Senator Risa’s message to mothers and young women
Senator Risa may be palaban in her work, but she does enjoy down time, too. In her free time and when her kids are at home, she and her kids like spending time together in their living room. The reading, listen to music, and just enjoy each other’s company. | Photo courtesy of the office of Senator Risa Hontiveros
“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize laureate
It’s great to be a woman. But being one also has its hardships and struggles, especially in a patriarchal society like ours. It’s a good thing there are brave and passionate leaders like our TAP MAM honoree, Senator Risa Hontiveros, who tirelessly fights for women’s rights and pushes for a better quality of life for all Filipino families.
Senator Risa is a women’s rights advocate and a hardworking legislator. She is the chairperson of the Committee on Women, Children and Family Relations. She also authored and sponsored several laws that benefit women and Filipino families altogether.
Get to know her journey as an activist to a legislator in the Philippine senate.
A Lifelong Activist
At an early age, Senator Risa Hontiveros was exposed to social issues because of her family.
“I grew up as a Martial Law baby and in a clan that became more and more critical [of the regime] as the years went on,” she says in an interview with theAsianparent.
At 12 years old, she already joined a noise barrage for the candidates of Laban, the slate that was running to fight the Marcos regime.
“Most of them [candidates] were in prison, including Ninoy Aquino,” she recalls. “They were running for the interim Batasang Pambansa election then…”
But it wasn’t until she was in second-year high school that she had a “joyful awakening” in activism.
“Mommy brought me to a symposium of the Nuclear-Free Philippines Coalition,” she narrates.
At that time, the coalition was protesting the opening of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. A project of former President Ferdinand Marcos, the plant was heavily criticized and protested against due to public health and safety issues. The major concern was the earthquake-prone location of the plant and the possibility of a nuclear meltdown.
“I was so inspired by them, that when I went back to school for junior year, hindi na ako nagpatuloy sa glee club. I didn’t even pursue my preparations to audition for a second musical with Repertory Philippines after The Sound of Music. Hindi ko na tinuloy ‘yong pag-audition for South Pacific.”
Senator Risa was cast as Louisa, one of the Von Trapp children in Repertory Philippines’ production of the beloved musical. Her castmates included Lea Salonga, Raymond Lauchengco, and Monique Wilson.
But instead of pursuing a career in theater, she formed the Nuclear Disarmament Group in her school, St. Scholastica’s College Manila.
“And then tuluy-tuloy na until college and when I started to work full time after college,” she says of being an activist. “What attracted me was the opportunity and the responsibility to speak out together with other Filipinos, on things that I felt then and still feel now, needed to be said.”
She adds, “I intend to be an activist all my life. May pagka-accidental na lang ‘yong pagiging pulitiko.”
Senator Risa became a founding member of Akbayan. The political party eventually campaigned to win seats at the House of Represenatives in 1998.
“But I only agreed to stand as a nominee [of the partylist] in the 2004 election,” she says. “Doon lang ako napilit ng mga kasama ko.”
Now that her children are all grown-up, Senator Risa enjoys the distinct relationship she has with each of her four children. She has learned to respect their autonomy as individuals. “We shape each other and we adapt to each other,” she shares. | Photo courtesy of the office of Senator Risa Hontiveros
Becoming a Solo Parent
Shortly after taking a seat in congress as a newbie legislator, Senator Risa was thrust in another role she was unfamiliar of.
In 2005, Senator Risa’s husband, Francisco Baraquel Jr., died of a heart attack. She was a widow at 39 and was left to take care of her four young children all by herself. At that time, her eldest son was just entering his adolescent years, and her youngest daughter was still a toddler.
She describes it as “the most difficult time in my life.”
She shares, “I think one of the most significant challenges that I faced as a woman was being widowed early… Without taking away any of the joys of parenting, but it makes it doubly hard to be a mom ‘pag solo mom ka. And as a woman, siyempre ‘yong mga ups and down sa love life. And siyempre ‘yong facing the challenges of child-rearing alone.”
“Friends have told me: ‘You can be a father, but you can never be a man.'”
Senator Risa muses, “I didn’t take it in any sexist way. It was just simply a fact of life. My son was a pre-teen when he lost his papa. So it was so important that he deepens his relationship with other significant men in his life para may role models din siya in that aspect.”
She knew that she also had to make adjustments in her parenting style. When her husband was still alive, he was the “kunsintidor” parent while Senator Risa was the disciplinarian. So when he passed away, she would still be the disciplinarian, but she had to parent her kids according to their personalities.
“My late husband and I, we decided to love our kids equally—no favoritism—but just in different ways kasi siyempre may iba’t iba silang personalities…”
Expanded maternity leave benefits ng mga working moms, tax-free na!
Special discounts sa damit, gatas at iba pa para sa mga solo parents isinusulong
Senator Risa Hontiveros pushing for anti-catcalling and anti-public harassment law
The Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act
Even after losing her husband and becoming a solo parent, Senator Risa wasn’t shaken from continuing on her path and her mission.
“Siguro may halong katigasan ng ulo,” she jests.
“I just knew that I had found my place in this world with the work I am doing,” she says, turning serious. “Ang alam ko lang at that time was it would be even more demanding—even harder. Because at that point, wala rin akong balak na bitawan ‘yong pagiging hands-on mom. Maybe in those early days, I just sensed that it was going to be harder, even more physically demanding, and more tiring.”
Senator Risa knew she had to hang on to both parenting her kids and continuing the work from which she was learning so much and felt that she had something to give.
She was eventually elected as a senator in 2016 after losing two bids for the seat in previous elections.
She would draw on her experiences as a mother and a solo parent to create and support laws that would benefit women and children, like the Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act and the Expanded Maternity Leave Law.
“It’s not easy to be a parent,” she muses. “Even two-parent families, challenging na ‘yon. But when you become a solo parent, doble ‘yong responsibilities. Mas mahirap kung mag-isa ka lang nagtataguyod ng pamilya, lalo na ngayon [pandemic]. Solo parents will play multiple roles, and I can empathize with that.”
The Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act pushes to amend the Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000. It provides additional support to solo parents in the country—95% of which are women. Part of the amendments includes giving a 20% discount to single parents on a broad spectrum of basic needs such as baby’s milk, food, tuition fees, among others.
It also aims to mandate companies and government agencies to create childcare facilities and breastfeeding areas in the workplace.
The Expanded Maternity Leave Law
Senator Risa was also one of the principal sponsors and author of the Expanded Maternity Leave law, that extends paid maternity leave from 60 days to 105 days, and solo parents get an additional 15 days.
“I really want to support all working mothers and expectant women. Particularly for those moms who earn just enough to meet the basic needs in times of economic strain,” she says.
With the Expanded Maternity Leave Law, fathers won’t feel left out. The Daddy Quota Provision (or according to Senator Risa, PASA-LEAVE) allows the mother to transfer 7 days of her maternity leave to the dad.
Because of these amendments, the Philippines is now at par with international standards in terms of maternity leave days.
Risa Hontiveros: The Asian Parent’s Marvelous Asian Mum
Senator Risa continues to work hard to author bills that will protect women’s rights and raise the quality of life of all Filipino families. She soldiers on despite the ongoing sexism and misogyny present in her male-dominated field.
“We still have a long way to go,” says Senator Risa. “It’s a life’s work for all of us so huwag tayong bibitaw. I want fellow women to claim the spaces meant for us. That through laws, we can help each other fight for and win what’s due us.”
Her journey as a solo parent and as a woman was not easy. But Senator Risa continues to fight with grace, passion and conviction. She serves as an inspiration to a lot of Filipino mothers and young women.
What’s her message to these young women and mothers who look up to her? Celebrate.
“Celebrate being a woman. There’s a special gift that we bring to the world.”
She also reminds us to never forget the struggles of the women who came before us. “I can be who I am and because of the women who came before me. Our shared struggles and our victories, as well as the defeats that we will have to swallow but still go on.”
Interview and additional reports by Candice Lim-Venturanza