“Di ko alam kung ano tatanungin ko [I don’t know what to ask],” says an overwhelmed mother in a primary care clinic as she was asked if she had any questions after learning about her child’s autism progression.

“Pag dinadala samin yung mga bata, walang assessment [When they bring the kids to us, they have no assessment], so we just make do with what we have,” says a special education (SPED) teacher who has around a decade’s worth of experience at her local center, eager to make sustainable change.

“Yes, awareness is still a problem and detection is still a problem, but we should also be looking at what comes after detection. Kulang talaga, kulang pa rin talaga services. [There is an evident lack, an evident lack of services],” says a specialist doctor who spends most of her time in her clinic, trying her best to cater to hundreds of patients who have waited for months just to get an appointment.

In about 90% of the conversations I had for this global health fellowship, I realized that I was talking to women, and it dawned upon me how important and deep the impact is that these women have to the everyday life of these individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In truth, these individuals are surrounded with women in their immediate environments—in various households, schools, and health care institutions.

So, when I think about it, I can’t help but ruminate on the current problems and issues that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face everyday: limited health resources, continuing discrimination, and sparse work opportunities. Would all of those unsolved problems be connected with the fact that these individuals are mostly being understood and taken care of by women? Does being in a women-filled environment weaken their cause in a male-dominated and influenced society? How will we be able to promote the strengths of nurturing and caring, in a world that prioritizes earning and gaining profit?

These are just some of the things we might want to consider as we witness the incredible strength and amazing love these women have for their children, students, and patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as they fight for a cause they continue to devote their lives to.

The strength of a mother

And as I talk about the unbelievable strength of women, I am reminded of a story of one of the mothers in our special education center. Her son is one of the SPED students who has been actively participating in our projects, always greeting us with a smile and a sunny and excited disposition. When I casually asked her how she is, I was taken aback by her sudden tears. She explains that even though her son seems happy and energetic, they have been struggling at home. She goes on by saying that her husband and her son’s father does not even consider him as his own child and wants nothing to do with taking care of the child. Even the child’s own grandparents are hesitant to help her since they believe that there is no point in spending money and energy on a child with intellectual disability.

But amidst all the things other people say to her, she says that when she looks at her son, she knows deep down that he deserves to be loved, just as much as her other children. She knows that she has to be strong to fight for her child, however, she feels burdened in being her child’s sole caretaker. As I listened to her, I looked at her son, as he looked at her confusedly. And for the first time, his smile wavered as he clung to his crying mother.

Imagine seeing a husband denying his own child just because he’s a little bit different. Imagine the strength a mother must have to be the sole caretaker and advocate of her child. And imagine how hard it is to empower and advocate for one’s child, when she herself feels burdened and limited.

Empowering women benefits all

Now imagine a world where the whole family takes care of each other and finds time to support each other. As these individuals and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities navigate through the world, heavily dependent on the women that surround them, we should find the time and effort to empower these women. Being the forefront decision-maker of health care for their family and their community, it is vital for the women of today to be heard and prioritized. By listening to their stories and making them realize their untapped influence in their households, workplaces, and environments, I believe that a more progressive and inclusive society, for everyone, is at hand.

They say that when women look at their children, all they see are angels being sent to earth, with their beaming smiles and musical laughter. But I would also like to believe that when the children look at them, they see strong, beautiful, and phenomenal angels too, loving them and advocating for them all throughout their lives. May we be able to have a society that empowers women, so that they can guide their children, their household, and the world, one step at a time, for that’s the innate power of an empowered woman.