Women’s Month 2020: Asian Movers and Shakers

Knox Balbastro
6 min readMar 31, 2020

COVID-19 became a full-on pandemic this March 11. According to the World Health Organization, recorded cases spiked from 87,137 on March 1 to 679,977 as of March 29. Who would have thought that this month would leave a lot of us confined to our homes, boxed in by the rules set up to protect us? Scary as this situation may be, it is important to not be stuck in a loop of gloom and doom. There is still good news — March was Women’s Month after all and 2019–2020 had a lot of cause for celebration. Here are some Asian women that I think you should know about.

Rowena Chiu: #MeToo Advocate

Rowena Chiu is the former assistant of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood film producer, and finally, a convicted sex offender currently serving out his time in the slammer. Many brave women came out against Weinstein but the story of Rowena Chiu struck me because I could relate most to her — — an Asian woman moving up the corporate ladder.

Photo of Rowen Chiu by Kathy LaBarre via ABC.net.au

Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sex crimes but it took over 20 years for Rowena to tell her story of workplace coercion and sabotage. Her article in the New York Times chilled me to the bone. It starts, “Harvey Weinstein told me he liked Chinese girls. He liked them because they were discreet, he said — because they knew how to keep a secret. Hours later, he attempted to rape me.”

Because of Rowena and the other survivors that have come forward, the world has become a safer place for women. “We haven’t changed things for our daughters and our granddaughters. And the way to change things for our daughters and granddaughters is to make sure that this type of systemic, patriarchy, misogyny is taken out of society by making legal change,” she said in a Huffington Post article.

Miky Lee: Producer of “Parasite”

“Parasite” is no doubt one of the most impactful films of 2019. The themes are especially resonant with the environmental and socio-economic issues we’re facing at hand. Writer and director Bong Joon Ho may be the widely-praised artist behind the award-winning film, but there’s a woman beside him who muscled that movie forward. Her name is Miky Lee.

Photo of Miky Lee by Kevin Winter/Getty IMages via Holywood Reporter

She was a prominent focus during the Oscars awards night as she came up on stage to give a speech as the executive producer of the film, but what you might not know is that Lee is also the “Godmother of South Korean Cinema” and has spent most of her career promoting South Korean films globally. She is the vice chairwoman of the entertainment company CJ Group and one of the creators of KCON, an annual event that promotes the Korean pop culture and helped bolster Kpop bands like BTS to megastardom.

Miky Lee is a living proof that women can create a big impact in an industry that has been dominated by men for decades. She is the farthest thing from the likes of Harvey Weinstein who lorded his power over those weaker than him. She’s an inspiration to every Asian woman and a true champion of Asian talent.

Angeline Tham: Angkas Founder and CEO

The traffic situation in the Philippines is a debilitating daily problem for most Filipinos working in Metro Manila. The megacity ranked second out of 416 cities across 57 countries in urban congestion, according to the TomTom Traffic Index 2019. But thanks to Angeline Tham, the founder of motorcycle taxi service Angkas (a Filipino word for “hitching a ride”) there’s a new way to beat the traffic efficiently and cost-effectively.

Photo of Angeline Tham by Joel Guinto/ABS-CBN News

Before starting Angkas, the 37-year-old Singaporean CEO launched one of the top online auction outfits in Singapore called sold.sg. Using her experience in the tech industry, she founded the ride-hailing app in early 2017. With over 3 million app downloads and 27,000 accredited drivers, Angkas is the most popular motorcycle taxi and delivery service app in the Philippines.

Angeline is not only a CEO, but she’s been at the forefront of movements that support safety and regulations on motorcycle taxis. In 2019, the ride-hailing company helped a lot of passengers affected by the closed LRT2 train stations by providing free rides. And now with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re mobilizing their network and resources to gather and deliver donations like ready-to-consume products, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), alcohol, soap, and other essentials.

Lee So-jeong: First South Korean News Anchor

Just like many South Korean industries, newsrooms were previously monopolized by men. 2019 brought to the forefront a fresh face and much-needed change. Meet Lee Se-jeong, the journalist appointed as the first female news anchor by Korean Broadcasting Station’s “News 9” bulletin.

Photo of Lee So-jeong by AFP via Strait Times

Lee has been reporting news from the finance sector, covering societal affairs and undertaking investigative journalism for KBS for 17 years. She received the best female reporter award in 2006 for her groundbreaking on-site coverage of the Mexican militant army Zapatista and its leader Marcos in 2003.

In an interview with AFP, Lee admits that female newsreaders used to be like “pretty flowers”. But it’s been her dream to transform KBS’ style and encourage the younger generation to watch the news. “I have to do well so that other female reporters could have more opportunities. That sense of responsibility and burden is greater than live-broadcasting primetime news,” she said. Since she has taken over as an anchor in November 2019, the audience share for the program has increased from 9.6 to 11 percent.

Female Health Workers

The health sector has been dominated by women for many years. Globally, 70 percent of the health workforce are women and in Southeast Asia, 79 percent of nurses are females. That’s why during a global crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to think about the sacrifices made by our female frontline responders.

Being raised by a nurse mom and always being surrounded by her cohort of nurse friends, I got to see firsthand the challenges of working in the medical field. The care they provide in times of peace is already priceless but when there is chaos, their professionalism and kindness is something that cannot be taken for granted.

Every day they go to work, putting their lives on the line. They choose to put the needs of society first, quarantining themselves from their loved ones while working endless shifts. In Wuhan, 31 nurses at the Western Hospital of Wuhan Union Medical College chose to butcher their hair to make their fight against COVID-19 easier. One of the nurses said: “We cut off our hair so that it makes it easier for us to put on our protective gear and take care of our patients.”

Not doubt. This is a time of war and I’m sad but proud that it is being fought by an army of strong female frontliners.

Photo of Chinese health workers in Wuhan by sinchew.com