Millennium Challenge Corporation; United States of America

Women breaking barriers: Finding 'Gabriela' within us all

Ms. Añonuevo is CEO and Managing Director of MCA-Philippines, where she is responsible for oversight of the Philippines’ $434 million MCC compact.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s, when there was no such thing as “women’s empowerment” in the Philippines as we see it today. Women were relegated to secondary roles in society and women achievers were rare. However, I grew up in a family where my father was an exception—he was a more liberated man. I was one of four daughters, and his philosophy was that his girls be sent to the best schools. We were free to pursue what we wanted to do with our lives, from choosing a career to choosing a partner in life. He raised us as strong women and told us to carve our own paths in life without depending on our spouses. There were very limited opportunities then, but slowly I began to hear of women entering the realm of politics as senators, congresswomen, business owners, and women earning doctoral degrees.

I have been blessed with very supportive men in my life, from my father to my spouse and male bosses. They have guided me and opened doors for me to maximize my potential. They reminded me that my being a woman is not a barrier to achieving my goals.

Over time, though, I’ve found that the old adage still holds true in the Philippines: Women have to work twice as hard to be noticed and to move up in their chosen profession. It’s important that young women today build up their credentials both in education and experience—but even more so, they have to learn to assert themselves and to be visible to people who matter. Women should speak their minds and demand respect from both men and women, always projecting a professional demeanor. A woman can do whatever a man does, and sometimes even better! I’ve seen this hold true in our community-driven development projects, when women suddenly realize that they have equal roles in community-building as their male counterparts.

Ms. Añonuevo participates in a ceremony to mark the construction of an MCC-funded day care center.

Although I was raised in a supportive household, I faced challenges. Not only did I have a husband and children to take care of while maintaining a career, but my husband succumbed to cancer in his late 30s. At a young age I cared for him while holding down a full-time job and, when he passed away, became a single parent of three young children. One has to be strong to overcome these challenges in life.

I’m lucky to say that my mother was my role model. She began her own career as a grade school teacher and then moved on to a government position as an auditor assigned to the Central Bank of the Philippines. She accomplished this while successfully balancing a career and raising a family. At that time, most of her contemporaries were housewives who actually were puzzled as to why she pursued a career when my father, who was a lawyer, earned enough for the family. My mother impressed upon us that having a career of her own fulfilled her and gave her financial and psychological independence. 

The Philippine Revolution was dotted with women heroines. One of them is Gabriela Silang, who is usually depicted riding a horse and leading a charge of rebels against the Spanish soldiers. In the late 18th century, Gabriela’s husband was a rebel leader killed in battle; she took over as leader when she saw the troops were losing heart. She symbolizes the courage of the Filipina—even now, a leading feminist movement in the Philippines is named after her. I would like to think that I too am a Gabriela, and for that matter, every Filipina can be a Gabriela when circumstances call for her to be such.