It may be an understatement to say that the national political scene has not been friendly to women. Former President Rodrigo Duterte can be infamously recalled for peddling misogynistic remarks, even going as far as stating in 2021 that women are not fit to hold office due to their emotional differences from a man. With his strong personality, he still has followers in the world of politics who spew out the same sentiments even to this day.
While the national government has been the basis for its structure, the University Student Government (USG) far exceeds it in terms of representation. The LaSallian probes into the experiences of DLSU’s female student leaders and how the student voting pattern relates to the seemingly high representation of women in its student government.
Outgoing USG President Alex Brotonel is the third consecutive woman president of the student government and its sixth in the past 10 years. As a student leader, she reveals that she has always seen her femininity as an asset amid the difficulties shoved her way. “[As women], we like to get things done no matter how difficult it is,” she firmly remarks. “We believe that we make our way through it. That’s why we continue to thrive in these stressful environments.
The perseverance of women comes in handy when working within the USG’s complex web of operations. Former USG President Maegan Ragudo refused to sugarcoat her experience, which has led her to believe that women tended to be “better” leaders. “We don’t ‘mansplain’ like our male counterparts. We make sure we know what we’re doing,” she explains. Ragudo believes that women have the ability to empathize and think critically during times of crises, drawing an evident distinction in their governance.
Business College Government Director for Student Support Josene Gonzales attests to such distinction: “Our women USG leaders demonstrate the genuine commitment to make an impact and contribute to growth within the Lasallian community, the studentry, and the nation.” Prominent women leaders taught Gonzales that being part of the USG meant she had to inspire her peers and exemplify strong communication and collaboration skills. She had to listen to her constituents’ perspectives and concerns, and respond proactively for the common goal of improving the students’ University life.
A true leader inspires others to encourage genuine positive reforms. For Ashley Francisco, Vice President of Internal Affairs Officer in Charge, this characteristic is what makes former Vice President Leni Robredo the “perfect example” of how women should govern. “They (women leaders) strive to create a meaningful impact in the lives of the people they work with and their constituents,” she furthers.
Trouble in ‘paradise’
The University, however, is far from a feminist utopia. Women still face similar challenges such as double standards that exist within larger society, which often bleed into their reality as USG officials. With societal norms readily stacked against them, Gonzales remarks that women are “imposed with extra hurdles to prove that [we] can lead.”
Ragudo also noticed that political parties would resort to questionable tactics in an effort to make their female candidates more palatable to the student body. “[These have] forced female candidates to be more ‘appealing’ to the electorate— or to put it more bluntly, to appeal to the male gaze,” she opines.
When corresponding with people over email, Brotonel sometimes gets mistaken for a man. “Usually they call me ‘sir’ in emails, and then they’re surprised when they see I’m a girl,” which she thinks may have been because of her gender-neutral name paired with how she is strong-willed in written correspondences, a trait mainly attributed to men.
These scenarios are not exclusive to the University; statistics from the 2019 World Values Survey showed that over half of Filipinos perceive men as better political leaders than women. Brotonel refutes this, sharing that her emotional sensitivity is necessary to serve in the USG. “‘Yung laging kapintasan sa mga babae na masyadong malambot ang puso [at] masyadong emosyonal is actually something that you really need in the [USG],” she clarifies. “You have to feel [the problems] first for you to act on it fast.”
(The recurring criticism against women that they are too soft-hearted and emotional is actually something you need in the USG.)
Brotonel’s tenure as president saw the USG headliner project 24/6 Food Pantry at the Gokongwei Hall Learning Facility, which provided food supplies in support of students during stressful nights. Pro-women projects were also implemented under Brotonel’s administration. This included providing menstruating students with free sanitary napkins. Kyla Ebora (II, AB-PSM), who has polycystic ovarian syndrome and severe dysmenorrhea, was thankful for the project because apart from making period products more accessible, “it creates a safe space” for female students.
With their capacity to greatly impact society, Francisco sees the USG as a potential springboard and training ground for women to become youth leaders beyond the University. But she still sees the need for more projects and initiatives that “can be of help to all aspiring and current student leaders to cultivate leadership skills.”
The dominance of women in USG elections proves that the student body is way past associating effective leadership with men. Francisco claims that she has seen many women leaders within the University, who are “reflective of Lasallians advocating for having equal access to opportunities for all.”
In light of this, Shayanne Distura (IV, AB- ISE) expresses that she doesn’t consider whether a candidate is a man or a woman when she casts her vote. She emphasizes, “As long as you have the passion [and] you have the credibility…you [should] show what you can offer to the University.” She stresses that candidates should run for the welfare of the students and to provide them with a better platform so that they may feel seen and heard.
Being an effective student leader has nothing to do with one’s gender. Rather, Ragudo says that it is about a person’s capability to balance empathy with the bravery to make tough decisions in the spirit of compromise. “There will be times where you’ll be asked to go against the current,” she warns. However, one must keep their principles intact to still serve the best interests of the student body.
The success of women in the USG is proof that women have immense skill and drive as leaders, despite the widespread misogyny of those with national jurisdiction. Their success may inspire many to stop equating masculinity with effective leadership—finally providing change to our chillingly testosterone-filled national government.
As Gonzales vehemently exclaims, “Women are and always will be winners, today and tomorrow.”
With reports from Angekyla Barroquillo and Red Binay