Meet the Match
A Resilient Woman Strives to Heal Wounds
Jessica Wu has always stood firm in her hope for a brighter future in the Philippines and the role she can play in shaping it. “I want to create a society where feminism isn’t for women only,” Jessica says, “but that gender equality is a fight for women and men together.”
Born in Iligan City, Jessica spent her early years in Marawi City where Muslim insurgents and the government forces regularly clashed. When she was young, Jessica’s parents were forced to move their family to Iligan, a buffer zone between the conflict regions. It was there where she lost two of her siblings, who died before the age of two. Amidst these challenging transitions, Jessica struggled with a sense of inferiority to those around her because of her darker skin color.
Jessica sought out an escape through gymnastics—her first venture into sports. She admired the grace and poise of the gymnasts, who resembled princesses to her. She also explored taekwondo and soccer. While studying at Silliman University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2009 and later a certificate in women’s studies, soccer was a constant comfort for her. A 12-hour bus ride away from her family and with no one else around to support her, the soccer team became a new family to her. Even though she wasn’t the most talented player, Jessica’s teammates and coaches helped her to believe in her own strength and potential.
“I didn’t have many ball skills or technique,” Jessica recalls. “But my college coach gave me one-on-one training and I gained confidence in my abilities. For the first time in my entire life, I was appreciated. I realized sport could offer me support and could help anyone who suffered the same horrible things I did growing up.”
That wasn’t the end to Jessica’s challenges. Harassment and discrimination followed her into adulthood. But these experiences only convinced her to stand up and become a voice for women. In Mindanao’s patriarchal culture, where there is what she calls a “belief barrier” that affects efficient collaboration between communities of Muslims, Christians, and indigenous populations, she knows women’s voices are lost in the noise. And she refuses to let that trend continue.
“There is too much silence when it comes to women’s issues,” Jessica says. “That is why it is my mission to help oppressed women and children. This is empowerment for me—to go from being a victim to someone who could make a real difference in my society.”
Aside from working with her husband in women’s rights advocacy, Jessica is a football master trainer for the ASA Foundation/Asian Soccer Academy and the regional coordinator for Let’s Do It! Philippines, an organization that mobilizes volunteers to clean up illegal dumping sites. Her climate change work extends to other roles with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Asia-Pacific, Dakila’s Climate Revolution, and the Climate Reality Project of former United States Vice President Al Gore.
Through participating in the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, (GSMP), Jessica’s dreams of creating a center that focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration for victims of sexual assault in Iligan City. She envisions an open facility for women and children all over Mindanao, along with an inclusive program for persons with disabilities. At this center, she plans to use sport-based education and life skills training to bring together women in a safe space where they can heal and find empowerment together.
Jessica will work to achieve this goal with the help of mentors Laura Burton and Jennifer McGarry at the University of Connecticut. Laura, an associate professor of sport management, has focused much of her career on studying gender issues and organizational leadership development. She is co-editor of one of the first textbooks focusing on leadership in sport, Sport Leadership in the 21st Century. Jennifer, head of the Department for Educational Leadership and executive director of Husky Sport, is an expert on barriers and supports for women from marginalized ethnic and socio-economic groups. With the support of her mentors, Jessica will gain the vital networks, development, and sustainable planning skills she needs if her center is to become a reality. Their partnership has the potential not only to achieve Jessica’s plans, but to also create a safer and more equal society for thousands of women in the Philippines.