Three Events That Shaped the Direction of the Filipina Women's Network

Excerpt from "FWN and I" by Marily Mondejar in DISRUPT. Filipina Women: Proud. Loud. Leading Without A Doubt. 


One. A successful career requires a constituency and a support network.

In 1998, I was a volunteer for a friend who was running for city mayor against the incumbent. I was fascinated with the aspects of political campaigning, especially opposition research. Often referred to as oppo, Wikipedia describes oppo as a tactical maneuver to legally investigate the opposing candidate’s background. This information is used to compromise a candidate’s position on issues that may be critical to the candidate’s platform. My candidate attacked the incumbent mayor because of transactions that involved a mayor’s crony.

The goal was to frame the daily news headlines by providing reporters bits of information to slowly chip away their lead in the polls. I particularly enjoyed this game of strategy. Later I realized that I was participating in compromising a rising Filipina executive’s career to get to her boss. I wanted so much to reach out to her but I could not as I was on the other side. It was then that I started looking at her support network. Where is the Filipino American community? Where are the women? The Filipina women? Who is advising her? Why is she not responding to the media frenzy? Deep in my heart I wished I could have helped.

This was a learning moment. I watched her career decline and soon she resigned. It also firmed up in me the need for having a network of support. Your own advisory board. A sisterhood. The men have known this for years; the old boys’ network is there for the bro.

I could not stop talking about this incident with my friends. At that time, I was not involved in the Filipino American community, until a friend said, “What are you going to do about it?”


Two. ‘Filipina’ and the Internet

As the Internet became more available, my name somehow would pop up when one Google searches ‘Filipina.’ One day I received an email from a stranger who wanted to meet Filipina women. He said he was looking for an Asian wife preferably a Filipina. He came across my name on an Internet search and found an article about me. He attached his very distinguished resume and invited me to meet him for dinner. He said he would show me his financial records if I would consider a relationship. Wow!

I promptly Googled ‘Filipina’ and was I surprised at the results. The Google search yielded 3,770,000 results. Yahoo yielded 5,530,000. yielded 565,800. The search results listed hundreds of website links to dating and matchmaking sites, ‘exotic’ and ‘sexy’ girls, and personal ads for Filipina wives.

These sites have defined Filipina women. Perpetuation of this ‘popular image’ was at a ‘cultural icon’ level, a much-desired status for which corporations spend millions of dollars to promote their products and services (Holt 2004).

I knew then that my work was cut out for me. I needed to develop a game plan to elevate the presence and participation of Filipina women in leadership positions in corporate America, public service and the government. I felt that it is not very often we get a chance to make a difference in other people’s lives. That email search was an eye-opener.


Three. The Vagina Monologues

When I met Eve Ensler in 2003 at a conference in New York, she had just returned from a trip to Manila where she met the Comfort Women at a production of The Vagina Monologues produced by Monique Wilson. I did not know what the Comfort Women was about. Eve encouraged me to put on the show. I ordered the script and my creative juices started pumping. What I thought was going to be a funny, revealing, provocative show with a cast of only Filipina women, turned out to be the most important campaign that FWN has ever convened. 

When we announced the production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues in 2003, FWN came under attack not only by the Filipino community but also by our own members. I was personally criticized through emails and phone calls for defaming FWN and the Filipino community, for being a bad role model, for being immoral, for daring to speak the word ‘vagina’ and ‘puki’ [vagina]. I became known as the ‘Vagina Lady’ or the ‘Puki Lady.’ We lost members. People would turn away from me at Filipino gatherings. Some would not touch me. Some of our production volunteers feared for their safety and questioned the wisdom of FWN’s collaboration with Eve Ensler’s V-Day, the global campaign to end violence against women and girls. 

I felt very responsible for what was happening. It was difficult emotionally to separate myself from the backlash. The resistance, however, challenged me and provided an opportunity for reflection and dialogue. I am an organizational change practitioner, after all. I felt there was something deeper to the hostile reaction and that somehow we have struck a chord. Why were people so threatened by a word?

The Vagina Monologues is a play that highlights the tragedy and comedy about women’s sexual lives. While at times funny, the play is graphic in its description and representation of women’s experiences. So we decided to hold weekly TV viewings of The Vagina Monologues at the rehearsals and at the homes of friends and FWN Members: to learn more about the source of hostility and anger, and to alleviate any uneasiness about pukis. We made sure that we had an experienced facilitator to conduct the discussion after each show so that every attendee felt safe and felt their opinions were heard. What resulted was unexpected. These home viewings and weekly rehearsals became community gatherings where women shared their stories of abuse, their secrets about rape and incest, and their recipes. It became a love fest and a food fest. We called them Vagina Love Brunches. 

What we thought were meetings to assuage people about doing a play about vaginas and pukis turned into a realization that Filipina women needed a safe place where they can be themselves, where they can share their secrets, their experiences and challenges with other Filipina women, and where they can feel that someone understands their struggles. 

At these community gatherings, we met Filipina victims and survivors of domestic violence sharing their hiya [shame]. They talked about their feelings about bringing domestic violence on themselves. That it was their fault. They talked about not talking about domestic violence lest they bring hiya to their families. 

At these community gatherings, we found that many of us still think that domestic violence only affects other communities and that it does not happen to us. That domestic violence happens only to other minority people, to poor people, to the uneducated, to the TNTs [TNT is a pop culture term for undocumented; its Tagalog translation is Tago ng Tago]. 

At these community gatherings, we sensed helplessness. No one knew where to go for help. No one was familiar with what resources were available. 

At these community gatherings, we found that community agencies organized to help women in abusive situations lack culture and language-appropriate resources for Filipina women. Existing community agencies cannot often relate to the specific complexities that Filipinas face in abusive situations. 

At these community gatherings, we learned the meaning of fear. Victims of domestic violence are afraid for themselves and for their children. Their aggressors instill such fear and isolation that victims often feel that no one will listen or help. They do not know how to ask for help.

At these community gatherings, we heard about Claire Joyce Tempongko who was murdered by her boyfriend in front of her two young children. We heard about Marissa Corpuz and Giovannie Pico. Many stories of Filipina women still not ready to come out publicly to share their stories. I was one of these women. 

At these community gatherings, we found a clear mission. Through the laughter, food, and storytelling, FWN launched the Filipina Women Against Violence Campaign. As the founder and president of FWN, I made it one of our organization’s top priorities—raise awareness and help end domestic violence. Two actions we took immediately:

1) Change the verbiage—we are survivors not victims, domestic violence is not the woman’s fault;

2) Publish the V-Diaries Magazine as an anti-violence resource guide to raise awareness about the cycle of violence that permeates our culture.

The success of the campaign was achieved through coalition building. I promptly got myself appointed to the City of San Francisco’s Justice and Courage Oversight Panel, which was tasked to oversee San Francisco’s systemwide response to domestic violence. This panel was created because of the murder of a young Filipina woman, Claire Joyce Tempongko.

Today, FWN works closely with the City of San Francisco’s agencies including the offices of the Mayor, the District Attorney, Domestic Violence Victim Services, Commission on the Status of Women, the Domestic Violence Consortium and the Collaborative Against Human Trafficking. We have barely scratched the surface. There is still much work to be done.


Kuwento Kuwento: Marily’s Mission

By Benjamin Pimentel,
Posted date: October 25, 2007


Google “Filipina” and you will likely find Web sites about mail order brides or international dating—online destinations that typically bring to mind the many stories of Filipinas being exploited or abused.

Marily Mondejar wants to change that.

The first time we met, she was trying to do it by producing and promoting Eve Ensler’s internationally renowned play about female sexuality, The Vagina Monolgues. Not only was the production composed of an all Filipina-cast, it was also in Tagalog.

I interviewed Marily, who is president of the Filipina Women’s Network, on Pinoy Pod, the San Francisco Chronicle’s podcast focused on the Filipino American community. (The feature marked the first time that the Tagalog word for the female organ was published on a major U. S. metropolitan newspaper’s Web site. You can check it out here).

Marily is trying to overhaul the image of Filipina women again this year by identifying the 100 most influential Filipinas in the United States.

“We want to be showing on the first page of any Yahoo or Google search with the meaning for ‘Filipina’ as ‘someone doing influential things,’” she said.

The idea for the campaign, which culminates this week at the organization’s 5th Filipina Summit in Washington DC., came to Marily and her group last year during the celebration of the centennial of Filipino migration to the United States.

That commemoration had focused largely on the Filipino men who came to America as migrant farm workers. “There were very few women mentioned, just the war brides,” Marily said.

For the bicentennial celebration of Filipino presence in America, she said, her group “wants to make sure there are at least 100 Filipinas” mentioned in the stories about the Filipino American journey.

For this to actually happen, FWN wanted to find influential Filipinas willing to take part in a campaign to reshape their public image. Marily and her team didn’t want another popularity contest or another feel-good schmooze-fest for the rich and famous.

“We did not want that,” Marily said. “You may be high society, you may come from a wealthy family. But we want to make sure that’s not your only claim to fame.”

And making it to the list is just the first step. Each honoree has a job to do.

“We want you to promise to be a womentor, ” she quipped, using FWNspeak for “mentor.” Each honoree must commit to help younger Filipinas as they begin their careers or take on other challenges in their community and beyond. “The goal is to change the face of power in America,” she said.

The organization solicited nominations from all over America, from the world of business, the arts, education, and nonprofits. After the list is completed, Marily said, FWN will then launch a mentorship program that it hopes to become fully-developed by 2012.

It’s a tough challenge, she acknowledged.

While there is a lot of excitement now about the campaign to identify the 100 Pinas, sustaining that energy will be difficult even for an established organization like FWN with its 500 active members and network of 5,000 supporters throughout the United States.

“The fear is obviously sustainability,” she said. “Are we going to get the support of the community? Is the program going to get the support of the community?”

But for the 57-year-old business consultant and single mother, it’s worth a shot. A native of Tacloban who grew up in San Juan, Metro Manila, Marily married young, had two sons and got divorced after moving to the United States in the early 1980s. She later built a successful career as a business development and image consultant, but she did not play to active a role in Filipino issues.

“I had been here 20 years but never got involved,” she said.

That changed in 2000 when she signed up to be a member of FWN which she has turned into a vibrant civic organization.

“This is my legacy to the community,” Marily said. “That’s all I ask for.” Laughing, she added, “I don’t even have a daughter. That’s probably why I’m involved in this.”

To find out more about the Filpina Women’s Network go to


Journalist Benjamin Pimentel is a reporter of MarketWatch from Dow Jones and former staff writer of the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the author of the gripping bestseller “UG: An Underground Tale.” His first novel, “Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street,” will be launched Nov. 19, 4 pm at the Loyola School Bookstore at the Ateneo De Manila. He can be reached at

© Copyright 2001-2008, An INQUIRER Company


Filipina Women’s Network in US marks glass-ceiling breakthroughs

By Lito Gutierrez, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 09:56:00 08/23/2010


SAN FRANCISCO, California, United States—Organization-image specialist Marily Mondejar was doing a pretty good job consulting for a mayoral candidate here several years ago.

Her team had been tasked to dig up dirt on the incumbent administration. One of the sitting mayor’s appointees had allegedly signed a construction contract for a crony. The media had a feeding frenzy that threatened to topple the Hizzoner.

“The name of the official sounded foreign, ” she says, recalling the episode. “After further research, I found out she was a Filipina and I began to wonder why she was being hung out to dry.”

The mayor would be re-elected, but at the cost of the job of this Filipina official. Mondejar was appalled, not because her candidate lost, but because she felt the official had been thrown under the bus to redeem the re-electionist’s image. She named the official but requested anonymity for her.

“Very few came to her defense,” Mondejar says.

A support group

Thus, it became the mission of the Filipina Women’s Network (FWN), a volunteer, non-profit organization to “level the professional and business playing field for Filipinas across America.”

FWN was conceived in 2001 over lunch organized by Cora Tellez, then chief executive officer of one of America’s biggest health-care providers, Healthnet. Many in her circle of friends were in management positions themselves. Mondejar, who had taken on image consultancy work for a giant Mexican cement maker, and Virna Tintiangco, then a college student.

Tintiangco was FWN’s first president but when she moved to Oregon in 2003, Mondejar took over.

“We want to open doors,” says Mondejar, 59. “We want to let America know that Filipinas have the skills to compete at all levels in all areas.” She enlisted Filipinas who had proven their mettle in the upper reaches of the different branches of government as well as the private sector.

Successful women

Today FWN has some 800 active members. Its success can also be gleaned in the names of more than 400 people who have signified their intention to attend the 7th Filipina Leadership Summit in Las Vegas in October. Among them: former White House physician, retired Rear Admiral Connie Mariano; California Appeals Court Judge Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, who has been nominated by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be chief justice of the state Supreme Court; California Lieutenant Governor Mona Pasquil; Nevada Judge Cheryl Moss; Davis, California Mayor Dr. Ruth Asmundson; and information technology tycoon Zeny Cunanan.

Over the years, FWN has been associated with such social issues as domestic violence.

Mondejar said major impediments for women seeking to move their careers forward are issues at home, particularly violence inflicted by spouses or partners.

It is an issue close to Mondejar’s heart, having herself been a victim of domestic violence. In fact, the reason she came to America in 1981 was to seek a divorce from her abusive husband. Her tale of woe is typical. When she told her friends about what her husband was doing to her, she would be told: “It is your fate,” and “Try not to make him angry.”

Marily’s own struggle

She initially brought her two sons to the US, but since she could not afford to support them yet, she brought them back home to live with her mother for a few years or until she became financially stable. She recalls the pain the divorce inflicted on her children, one of whom blamed her for not sticking it out. She says it took some doing to make them understand. Now she says she has “a great relationship” with them.

In California, Mondejar found her feet. She got bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Humanities, and is finishing her thesis for a doctorate in Organizational Psychology. After 13 years as an image builder for the cement company, she eventually resigned to run FWN as a full-time career.

It is important for women, Mondejar says, to understand the cycle of domestic violence. “It took me years to understand that,” she adds. “I kept getting into abusive situations and did not know how to break the cycle and seek help.”

FWN has also become known for its women’s rights activities as part of its business networking agenda. Its most popular program is its adoption of “The Vagina Monologues,” the off-Broadway stage phenomenon going into its 15th year, whose theme “the vagina as a tool for female empowerment” has become a rallying point of women the world over. It has been translated into 45 languages and when its Tagalog version, “Usapang Puki,” was staged in Manila in 2002, church groups raised a howl, which helped ensure its success, she said.

FWN will present it again during its Vegas summit in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

FWN itself does not provide logistical support for abuse victims. What it offers is education and moral support.

For instance, FWN members were at the murder trial of William Corpuz, who was convicted by a jury of murder for slitting his wife’s throat.

Mondejar says she is also mobilizing her members to support the confirmation of Cantil Sakauye, who would, if elected in November, be the first Asian-American Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Sakauye is an FWN member.

Not mail-order brides

Despite the number of high-caliber women in FWN's roster, Mondejar acknowledges that Filipinas have a long way to go in breaking the glass ceiling.

Google “Filipina” and most of the 3.77 million results are links to matchmaking, dating, and adult-entertainment sites.

“Initially, American men thought we were some kind of mail-order-bride organization and we would get requests to meet Filipina women,” Mondejar says. In fact, she adds, “many mail-order-bride and matchmaking groups still link to our website and we would have to back-trace them and remove their links.”

This was why FWN launched its “Shaping the Filipina image” campaign, which, she says, is just another step to create a positive image and open up leadership opportunities for Filipinas in the US.

100 Most Influential Pinays

During the Vegas gathering, Mondejar says she will push FWN’s “womentoring” and leadership program, and the selection of the “100 Most Influential Filipinas in the US.”

She hopes each of the 200 “most influential” Filipino women selected in 2007 and 2009 would take at least one Filipina under her wing and teach her what it takes to make it in the American workplace.

“Can you imagine?” she says rhetorically. “By 2012 (in time for a planned Pinay Power reunion) we’d have 600 more successful Filipinas after the final FWN 100 are selected next year?

To be sure, FWN faces many challenges. For one, “funding and keeping the FWN mission alive,” she says.

But she draws her energy from FWN’s members and what they have so far achieved. She still remembers the first summit in 2001 when she was selling the idea to a group of women in San Francisco. After her spiel, one of them stood up, saying: “I’m in. I want to be part of this group. I have never been in the same room with so many accomplished women. Here’s my check!”

Then just about everybody else took out their check books and signed up.


Marily’s acceptance speech at the KQED Women’s History Month Awards (March 22, 2012)


Thank you, KQED. Thank you Siouxie Oki for the preparation of this beautiful awards program. Thank you Wells Fargo for sponsoring the Women’s History Month Awards. FWN banks at Wells Fargo.

I am humbled and honored to be among this outstanding group of honorees and awesome Sheroes.

I’d like to thank my family—my son Franklin and my sister Genevieve, my exceptional sisters in the Filipina Women’s Network and in the FRIENDS, the Commission and the Department of the Status of Women, Leadership California and my amazing friends—old and new—who are here to celebrate with me tonight.

I share this award with all of you. Your love, support, criticism—helpful criticism!—are what sustain me in my work.

I dedicate this award to my personal Shero, my Mom, who is no longer with us but has guided me for so many years—she was the first feminist I knew.

Like many cultures, Filipinos are a proud people who value family, faith, and tradition. We celebrate with our friends and neighbors when one of us succeeds in school, at the workplace, or in our community.

We laud the accomplishments and efforts of our fellow Filipinos, our kababayans. We feel proud when one of us makes it.

And, like many others, we are also a compassionate people. We help each other in times of need. Despite personal difficulties, we try our very best to help friends and neighbors even if it means personal sacrifice.

We go out of our way when others need our help. When someone dies, we grieve with them. When someone is sick, we comfort them; bring them food. We instinctively know what to do.

But when someone we know is in an abusive relationship, we become tongue-tied and helpless. We avoid. We change the subject. We feel embarrassed. We sympathize but we do not often help. Let me share with you my story of how I became a stronger and more vocal advocate for women and girls suffering abuse.

This award is important to someone who came to San Francisco 25 years ago not knowing anyone to leave an abusive marriage, get a divorce and start a new life with my two young sons. The City and the people I met have been kind to me as I struggled to raise my children and develop a fledgling career and business.

When the Filipina Women’s Network announced the production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues in 2004, FWN came under attack not only from the community at large but also from our own members.

I was personally criticized through emails and phone calls for defaming our organization and the Filipino community, for being a bad role model, of being immoral, for daring to speak the word “vagina” and “puki”. I became known as the “vagina lady. ”

We lost members. Some of our volunteers feared for their safety and questioned the wisdom of FWN’s collaboration with Eve Ensler’s V-Day, her national campaign to end violence against women and girls.

I felt very responsible for what was happening. It was difficult emotionally to separate myself from the backlash. The resistance however challenged me and also provided an opportunity for reflection and dialogue.

I felt there was something deeper to the hostile reaction and that somehow we have struck a chord undefined why were people so threatened by vaginas?

The Vagina Monologues is a play that highlights the tragedy and comedy about women’s sexual lives. While at times funny, the play is graphic in its description and representation of women’s experiences.

So we decided to hold weekly home viewings of Eve’s performance of The Vagina Monologues: to find out where the hostility and anger came from and to alleviate any uneasiness about pukis.

We conducted a discussion after each viewing so that attendees felt safe and felt their opinions were heard. What resulted was unexpected.

These home viewings and weekly rehearsals became community gatherings where women shared their stories, their secrets and their recipes. It became a love fest and a food fest. We called them Vagina Love Brunches.

What we thought were going to be meetings to assuage people about doing a play about vaginas turned into a very significant discovery. A realization that Filipina women needed a place where they can be themselves, where they can share with other Filipinas their experiences and challenges, and where they can feel that someone understands their struggles.

At these community gatherings, we met victims of domestic violence sharing the shame or hiya. They talked about their feelings about bringing this on themselves. About feeling that domestic violence is a private matter, not to be shared outside the family.

At these community gatherings, we also found that many think that domestic violence only affects other communities, that it doesn’t happen to us. That domestic violence happens only to the puti or Caucasians, to poor people, to the uneducated, to the TNTs or “illegals” or “undocumenteds”.

At these community gatherings, we learned the meaning of fear. Victims of domestic violence are so afraid for themselves, for their children. Their aggressors instill such fear and isolation that victims often feel that no one will listen or help.

At these community gatherings, we sensed helplessness. No one knew where to go for help. No one was familiar with what resources were available.

At these community gatherings, we found that community agencies tasked with helping women in abusive situations lack culture- and language-appropriate resources for Filipinas.

At these community gatherings, we found a clear mission. Through the laughter, food and story telling inspired by The Vagina Monologues, the Filipina Women’s Network launched the Filipina Women Against Violence Campaign.

As the president of the Filipina Women’s Network, I made it one of our organization’s top priorities to help end domestic violence.

But the success of our campaign, of any campaign, can be achieved only through coalition building.

We reached out and partnered with many organizations to help us with our education efforts: CORA through Cherie Querol Moreno, the Asian Women’s Shelter through Geene Gonzales, WestBay through Ed Jocson, the API Legal Outreach through the late Kevin Pimentel, the Domestic Violence Consortium through Beverly Upton, and the City’s Dept. on the Status of Women through Emily Murase.

We published the V-Diaries, an anti-violence resource guide that looks and reads like a magazine, and they were distributed to over 35,000 Filipino households through the San Francisco Chronicle, the Examiner and the Bay Area BusinessWoman.

In the ensuing years we heard from our Filipina sisters across the country urging us to bring our campaign to their communities. So we met with women and girls in New York City, Washington, DC and Las Vegas. And helped them put on their own productions of The Vagina Monologues.

Then in 2009 we expanded our campaign to include our Asian Pacific Islander sisters. Our first all-Asian Pacific Islander women cast included Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, School Board president Hydra Mendoza, then-School Board Vice President and my District Supervisor Jane Kim, Emily Murase, the Dept of the the Status of Women Executive Director, Julie Soo Commissioner of the Commission on the Status of Women, Activist Helen Zia, Broadcaster Jan Yanehiro and many more professionals, homemakers and students.

For 8 years now, through over 20 performances in San Francisco, New York City, Washington, DC and Las Vegas, we have produced The Vagina Monologues, each time bringing front and center the issue of violence against women and girls.

Our Vagina Monologues productions have raised over $100,000 and have benefited local community agencies and women’s shelters along with Eve Ensler’s Annual V-Day Spotlight Campaigns.

The money may not seem like a lot but the women we came to know, the stories they shared, the stories that they made public, the men who pledged not to harm the women and girls in their lives – have changed countless lives in small and big ways.

But we need to do more. Much, much more. We need to partner with ALL our sister organizations and community service agencies. We need to rally our workplaces to help eradicate domestic violence.

We need to lobby our elected officials to provide more funding for much-needed resources. We need to engage our friends and neighbors about the roots of domestic violence.

We need to encourage victims of abuse to seek help. We need to talk to our sons and our daughters about the realities of domestic violence.

And, most importantly, we need to listen.

We need to listen to the women who are being abused. We need to listen to the women who themselves don’t think they are in an abusive situation.

We need to listen and we need to help. No matter the personal consequences.

We need to listen and we need to help. And we need to make sure women and children in abusive situations have somewhere to go to and someone to talk to.

In closing, I’d like to ask you to do two things tonight.

Tonight, have a talk with someone you know about love. About respect. About how to be an honorable person.

Talk with your daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, friends and acquaintances, about violence and abuse having no place in their hearts, in their lives.

And tell your daughters and sons that no matter what, you will listen and you will help.

Tonight, go on the Internet and find out who is running for political office in your community. Then sign up to become a volunteer. Sign up your friends and family to volunteer.

And once there, let your voice be heard and make a difference in someone’s life.

I myself have accepted the challenge to run for office so I can influence the Democratic leadership in San Francisco and continue to be a voice for my community.

My message to you tonight—remember to listen and to help.

Thank you and good evening.


Marily: Hermana Mayor for Pistahan 2009