Articles Tagged with: women leaders

Maria Ressa, Journalist and Activist

Journalism wasn’t always a life-threatening field of study. Times have changed, however, and some journalists have become activists who risk life and limb—even their freedom—to publish the truth. According to a New York Times article, 2018 was the most dangerous year on record for journalists; this trend has not shown any sign of waning.

No one knows this better than Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa. She was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2018, part of this year’s Bloomberg 50 List, former bureau chief of CNN Philippines and Indonesia, and founder of Manila-based news outlet Rappler. In June of this year, in the middle of a global pandemic, she was convicted of cyber-libel.

Who is Maria Ressa?

Maria Ressa was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States with her family as a young child. She spent her early years living in New Jersey and studied English and Theater at Princeton University. In the 1980s, after the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos came to an end, Ressa decided to return to the Philippines. Back to her roots, she discovered journalism and spent the next 30 years as a television and broadcast journalist working around Southeast Asia. While working as a journalist, she had her first interview with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who would later become president of the Philippines in 2016.

She is the Chief Executive Officer of Rappler, which she founded in January 2012 along with three other female founders and 12 journalists. With the ultimate goal of building communities while using social media to do good, Rappler has grown into a well-respected independent news outlet known for its investigative journalism.

Before founding Rappler, Maria Ressa spent six years as the news division leader of ABS-CBN, formerly the Philippines’ largest TV network. Earlier this year, ABS-CBN was shut down due to legal issues, although many believe President Duterte had a direct hand in closing the networking giant down. This closure is just another example of the kind of political climate Ressa and other Filipino journalists face.

Covering Duterte’s “War on Drugs”

In 2016, under Ressa’s guidance, Rappler first started to cover President Duterte’s “army of trolls” who were seeding and spreading fake news to millions of his followers online during the Philippine presidential campaign. When he eventually won the election and became President, Rappler began to write stories on the administration’s “War on Drugs,” which killed over 7,000 people between July 2016 and July 2017.

During this dark time, President Duterte ordered the Philippine police to kill anyone they suspected of drug connections. Unsurprisingly, only small-time and usually lower-class drug users and street-side pushers were caught and killed in this brutal war. It left international syndicates and influential drug dealers who control the drug trade unscathed. Reporting on this is what put Rappler and Ressa in the spotlight and right in front of President Duterte’s line of fire. That would be the beginning of Ressa’s legal battles.

Her Legal Battles

Maria Ressa’s current legal battles stem from an 8-year old story that Rappler published alleging a Filipino business person had links to illegal drugs and human trafficking. The story was published in 2012, four months after the “cyber-libel law” was passed. In 2014, the story was re-published due to a typo, and the courts declared that it fell under the jurisdiction of the said law.

During the proceedings, the judge stated that Rappler did not offer proof of their allegations and convicted Maria Ressa with cyber-libel. She now faces the possibility of serving six years in jail. According to Ressa and Rappler, the case was politically motivated. Since 2018, there have been 11 cases filed against Rappler, including tax evasion and foreign ownership violations.

As her legal battles grew, so did her profile, both locally and internationally. She has become known worldwide as a symbol of standing up for the truth and battling an authoritarian president and would-be dictator. As Maria Ressa has said in an interview, “In a battle for facts, in a battle for truth, journalism is activism.”

An Inspiring Voice

The 2020 documentary “A Thousand Cuts,” produced by fellow Filipino-American Ramona S. Diaz, features Ressa. The film covers Maria Ressa and Rappler as they put up a fight against President Duterte’s attack on them and, inevitably, on freedom of the press. Throughout the film, Maria Ressa is a beacon of hope and strength-showing her humanity by voicing out her fears, yet never giving up on what she believes is right.

She has become an inspiring voice around the world. When Ressa talks about the attacks on freedom of speech, the truth, and facts, she is not just talking about the state of the Philippine press and politics but the state of the world. In this day and age, where people can get the news with a click of the button, they can also get fake news and lies at just the same speed. It has become Maria’s advocacy to stand up for facts and not give in to political pressure.

Currently, Maria Ressa is out on bail and still publishing. Rappler continues to cover the Philippines’ daily news, together with fearless views on the current Philippine administration. Ressa continues to stand for what she believes in and to fight the legal cases piling up against her and Rappler. It is interesting to note that in “A Thousand Cuts,” she asks the lawyer what the worst case can be filed against her. Her lawyer answered that it didn’t matter because the government would find the opportunity to file any claim against her, even child abuse, in their attempt to silence her.

From journalist to activist, Maria Ressa inspires journalists and women around the world with her strength and poise. She is an excellent example of the power of an individual who refuses to give up on facts and continues to fight for the truth.


Kamala Harris – A Woman of Many Firsts

The year 2020 has been historic in more ways than one. Despite being a year that many people would like to forget, it was also filled with remarkable firsts. It was the first time the US elected a woman to the second-highest position in government. Vice president-elect Kamala Harris made history and has become a bright light in these dark times. Not only is she the first woman vice president, but she is also the first African-American and first Asian-American to occupy this esteemed position. 

She shattered the infamous glass ceiling for women by being elected vice-president. More than that, she also broke through the “concrete ceiling” – a term used to describe the obstacles women of color particularly face. She went through it all with positive energy and a smile on her face. Kamala is a beacon of hope for women around the world, as she herself said during her victory speech, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” 

Her early years

Kamala Devi Harris was born in 1964 to immigrant parents, her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris from India, and her father Donald Harris from Jamaica. Both her parents migrated to the United States to study for doctorate degrees at the University of California, Berkeley. This is where they met, got married, started a family, and continued pursuing their own careers. It would be natural to assume, and rightly so, that the environment that Kamala and her sister Maya were exposed to at a young age helped shape who they are today. With both parents being accomplished in their own fields and active in the civil rights movement, it was inevitable that these factors would influence Kamala and Maya in their own career choices. 

Kamala has said, “My parents marched and shouted in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It’s because of them and the folks who also took to the streets to fight for justice that I am where I am.” 

Her parents divorced in 1971, and Kamala and her sister were mostly raised by their single mother. They moved to Montreal, where Kamala finished high school before going back to the US to study political science and economics at Howard University. She, later on, obtained her law degree from Hastings College. 

Her mother Shayamala had a huge impact on Kamala’s life, and she often mentions her even today. In her own words, “There is no title or honor on earth I’ll treasure more than to say I am Shyamala Gopalan Harris’s daughter.” Sadly, her mother passed away from cancer in 2009 and is not here today to see how far her daughter has come. Despite this, Kamala never fails to mention just how much influence her mother had on her life and accomplishments.

A woman of many firsts

Throughout her life and her career, Kamala has been breaking barriers. We all know that she’s about to become the first woman Vice President, but she had many firsts even before she made her presence known on the national stage. She was also the first woman, the first African-American, and the first Asian-American woman to become the attorney general of California. In the Senate, she is the first Indian-American to serve as Senator while also being only the second African-American woman to hold this position. She is also the first Vice President to graduate from a historically black college, Howard University. 

Her husband Doug Emhoff also contributes to her string of firsts – he will be the first second gentleman and the first Jewish spouse of a US Vice President. Kamala didn’t set out to become the first in all these things – she accomplished them by following her own path and working hard towards her goals. Something we can all learn from. Kamala serves as an inspiration to women all over the world. She also shows that women can truly be trailblazers in any field.

Her love of cooking

For all her professional accomplishments, Kamala has also become famous for one more thing – her love of cooking. She is a self-professed passionate home cook and has shared a few of her personal recipes on her social media accounts. Recently, she shared a step-by-step recipe of her family’s favorite cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving. “During difficult times, I have always turned to cooking,” Kamala has said. Cooking is a source of comfort for her, and this passion started when she was a young child watching her own mother in the kitchen. 

“One of the things that I do to relax at the end of the day is I read recipes,” she shared in 2018, something many people can relate to. Now, we can all imagine her flipping through her favorite cookbooks after a long day at work. This open love of cooking is another thing that makes Kamala stand out from other career politicians. Her willingness to share snippets of her personal life with others is a wonderful way she connects to people. 

Kamala Harris and the future

The past few years in the US have not been easy, with racial and political divisions growing and becoming more evident in everyday life. Kamala Harris winning as vice president is a much-welcome change and a refreshing breath of fresh air. She serves as an inspiration to both women and people of color everywhere. 

We can all learn a lesson or two from Kamala and her journey — the importance of family, the influence of a mother’s love and example, and the greatness you can accomplish when you combine hard work and heart, no matter your circumstances. It will take many years to overcome the negativity and discord that have been sown in the US landscape. However, when there is someone like Kamala Harris helping lead the way to heal these wounds and to create a more equitable and just society, we can allow ourselves to envision and believe in a better future.


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