TEXT Catarina Mesquita and Mariana César de Sá
PHOTOS Cheong Kam Ka and Leong Sio Po
More than forty years after the United Nations started celebrating International Women’s Day on the 8th March, Macao Magazine dedicates this issue to celebrate women in Macao and their accomplishments.
There are thousands of stories to tell on women who have helped build this city into a home for all members of the society.
Here are merely eight examples of women that have taken on the role of “superwoman” in their various field and have pursued their dreams and passions.
From politics to sports, business to social work and arts, they share their inspirations and their fight. We hope that these stories will inspire you and make you reflect on how far we’ve come in regards to having a society that treats both men and women equally.
TEXT Elky Siu
Sonia Chan Hoi Fan is Secretary for Administration and Justice for Macao. As the only female member on the team of cabinet secretaries, some have portrayed Chan as an ambitious “Iron Lady,” but she insists that she simply is on a mission to help build a better Macao. A native of Guangzhou, Chan has been a resident of the Special Administrative Region for nearly three decades. She recently shared her experience as a government official as well as insights into her personal life with Macao Magazine.
As a child, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
Actually, when I was little, I loved dancing. But growing up in the 60s was a different time. Life wasn’t as exciting. There weren’t as many opportunities as there are now. My family had to focus on working and making a living, so I didn’t have the chance to pursue my dancing dream. But I still love watching performances such as ballet shows, even though I’m not dancing!
Who are your female role models?
I have admired many ‘Iron Ladies’ throughout my career, including former Chinese Vice‑Premier Wu Yi, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former President of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong Rita Fan Hsu Lai‑tai, etc. They are all very capable and successful women in society.
Do you have a mentor?
My primary school teacher inspired and influenced me the most. She was like a loving mother to me. We still keep in touch regularly, decades after we first met. Actually, we just met up not long ago! I am very grateful to have this teacher who is also a motherly figure to me in my life.
How would you like to be remembered for your contribution to Macao?
I hope we (i.e., Chan’s team as well as those of the other secretaries) can work together and show the world Macao’s uniqueness as well as provide a peaceful and harmonic society for our fellow citizens.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to more female leadership?
Working in government, we are all driven by the same goal regardless of our gender – to do our best to support the Chief Executive’s administration in an effort to construct a better Macao. Maybe because I am the only female on the team, the Chief Executive and the other Secretaries are always extra considerate of me. So from my own experience, I think we definitely need to encourage more women to join the ranks of female leadership and let their voices be heard.
What are the best and worst decisions you’ve ever made?
I rarely qualify my life through this lens. I believe we can never do anything perfectly in any phase of life. Although I am an introspective person who tends to ponder what I might have done better or differently in certain situations, I have never really tried to categorise which decision was the best or the worst.
Where do you find your motivation, and do you have a general work or life motto?
I believe that no matter what job is at hand, one always has to be responsible and do one’s best. This is what I always tell myself in all situations. What keeps me motivated every day is faith and a sense of responsibility.
It is also very important to have one’s mindset ready and clear for work every day. It affects your decisions as well as the vibe of the whole team. So I face every day with a positive attitude. Even when facing challenges, I stay calm and objective, and I’m not afraid to ask for opinions and help if I can’t solve a problem alone.
Talking to someone I trust, such as family, friends or colleagues is helpful in seeing the whole picture clearly. I am very lucky and grateful that I have my family, friends and a great team supporting me.
To be honest, what I can do alone is very limited. For the most part, it’s about gathering intelligence together. What we do in public administration reform or law reform to improve citizens’ livelihood and welfare, it’s always the whole team’s effort. It’s also necessary to remain objective when working towards the greater good of the public.
Even when there is something that I might not personally favour, if it’s agreed upon by the majority [of my team] and considered the best option, I gladly subordinate my opinions to that of the team. When I make a decision at work, I am always thinking on behalf of the welfare of Macao’s citizens and the government, not based on my personal interests. My motto is, “No matter what you do, always make sure you can face your conscience.”
The very first thing one notices when meeting Marjory Vendramini is that she carries her emotions in her voice and wears her heart on her sleeve. When telling a story, she may laugh one moment and struggle to hold back tears the next.
Born in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Vendramini moved to Macao with a mission: to improve the lives of children in need. What was intended as a four‑year mission has now stretched to 26 years and counting.
Founder and president of the Cradle of Hope Association in Taipa, she strolls the corridors every day, speaking to her staff in Cantonese – a Cantonese that is unique to her. The children of the residential home recognise it instantly as belonging only to this vibrant, loving woman. This is pure Vendramini: a strong woman who is always ready for a new challenge, and her life thus far has been full of new adventures. “When I know I have to change, I change. Maybe it’s a consequence of having had a free and detached childhood, one without negligence on the part of my parents.”
An evangelist, Vendramini feels that God has a path for her. On July 1993, she heard of a child found in the trash and instantly felt that it was a divine sign. “It was a God‑sent opportunity for us to give back to society and make a difference in this child’s life. That moment I said to myself, ‘Finally I know what I’m here for’.”
Since that fateful day, she has helped nearly 300 children ranging from infants to 18‑year‑olds, providing shelter, food and access to education through her children’s home that now employs a staff of 66. She showers the children with treats and love but emotionally admits that Cradle of Hope isn’t a replacement for a family or a home.
Vendramini draws inspiration from great women of history, including Mother Teresa and Sister Juliana Devoy, but says she can see the goodness in people everywhere she looks.
With a degree in Social Work from the Polytechnic Institute of Macao, she also has a Masters in Business Administration from the University of San José in Macao. There is no end in sight to her heart‑warming contribution to Macao and no limit to the extent of her dreams.
Sister Juliana Devoy
At the age of 80, Sister Juliana Devoy from Good Shepherd Centre, a shelter for women in crises, still goes up and down the stairs with the same energy she had when she was a teenager, campaigning for the position of vice‑president of the student body of her high school.
A native of the United States, Devoy has lived in Macao since 1989, but her work is well known beyond the city’s borders, including leading marches and speaking at conferences on women’s rights. Her efforts in the fight against human trafficking and domestic violence are almost synonymous with her name. Truly an inspiration to others, Devoy saw the Law of Prevention and Combat Against Domestic Violence approved in Macao after years of tireless dedication and effort.
Devoy first decided to be a Sister of the Good Shepherd after completing high school, a decision she knew would distance herself from her family in the United States. But for her, embarking on this mission to improve the lives of others in distant parts of the world “was a matter of love for God.”
At the age of 26, she moved to Hong Kong where she began working with adolescents in need. Her missions have since led her all over Asia – mainland China, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Myanmar – always in an effort to improve women’s lives.
Devoy rarely forgets her experiences at Good Shepherd Centre, but even so, she is still surprised by people who approach her on the street to thank her. This sort of intimate community is something unique to Macao: “Elsewhere, it wouldn’t be possible to encounter the people I helped when they were children who are now married adults,” she asserts.
Devoy draws her inspiration from former mentors, remembering, in particular, one Sister who she met during her one‑year stay at the Mother House in France before her final vows. “At the time, I was 22 years old, and Sister was about 60 years old, but she treated me as an equal.” It was an experience that left a profound mark on Devoy, who treats everyone with the same respect and care and seeks to help others attain it for themselves.
Having already experienced eight decades of life, Devoy welcomes the evolution of the role of women in society with open arms and praises the capable ladies who have attained leadership positions around the world. The next project for which she will take up arms is improving Macao’s adoption laws. “If God gives me more time, I hope to be here to see the change!”
Michelle Ho cannot recollect a time in her life when McDonald’s wasn’t a part of it. “I have ketchup in my veins,” jokes the early 30’s businesswoman, CEO and Developmental Licensee of McDonald’s.
One of four sisters, Ho grew up surrounded by women, so it is fitting that her story is one of female inspiration. Her strength also hails from her mother and grandmothers, both over 90, and “sources of strength and longevity” for the young entrepreneur.
Ho has dedicated much of her career to the development of the McDonald’s brand in Macao, Zhuhai and Zhongshan, carrying on her father’s 26‑year legacy. Having studied and worked in hospitality, her father felt that of her siblings, she was the most natural fit to continue the family business.
Her previous work experience includes a stint in spa management at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in Hong Kong. She was also Director, Marketing Planning and Consumer Relations Management at Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts in Singapore. By her mid‑20s, she was the company’s youngest director.
Despite at first declining her father’s proposal for many years, Ho finally accepted it in 2012, having considered the empowering experiences of becoming a business owner and female leader.
The young entrepreneur has never felt that being a woman has been a disadvantage; rather, she believes what is most important is the self‑confidence gained from education. “Both my parents raised me to be strong and independent, to stand on my own and not to see finding a husband and settling down as the only target in life. Their philosophy was to have a good education and be able to stand on your own two feet,” says Ho, who graduated from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, New York.
Given the opportunity to dine with anyone of her choosing, Ho’s number one pick would, of course, be a strong female role model: American media host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.
Founder of Creative Macau, a platform for local creative industries, Lúcia Lemos has a desire to make a difference along with her abiding passion for and commitment to art and culture rank her at the top of any list of female role models.
An independent spirit, she has little interest in how she is perceived and “doesn’t worry about the expectations of others.” Throughout her life, she has sipped from various fountains of inspiration which allow her to express her creativity through drawing, painting and photography.
A love story brought Lemos, a native of Portugal, to Macao in 1982, and she has stayed ever since. She was a librarian at the Historical Archives and Central Library, formerly known as the National Library of Macao, for six years before she was invited to create a local centre for creative industries.
For two years, she dedicated her life to a project that never saw the light of day but served as the basis for Creative Macau. Today, she devotes much of her time to the “Sound and Image Challenge,” a short film festival organised by Creative Macau – Center For Creative Industries with the Institute of European Studies of Macau.
Several prominent names within the local artistic scene have collaborated with Creative Macau through a variety of mediums: photography, painting, sculpture and other 3D forms, cinema and design, among others.
Lemos is grateful to Macao for giving her the opportunity to live freely and make her mark as a woman. “Macao is a safe place in every sense of the word, and this allows both men and women to live an easier life.”
She is a dreamer, yet one who acknowledges her limits. Mother to two boys and a girl, Lemos encouraged her children to also pursue their dreams. Mention her daughter who dreamed her way to becoming a brilliant astrophysicist, and Lemos will respond with the same pride, laughter and sincerity with which she greets everyone who comes to Creative Macau.
Sabrina Ho Chiu Yeng has been drawing on every surface available to her since she was just a little girl. The tables and walls of her house were all canvases for her colourful works in pencil, pen and paint, and her parents quickly accepted that her life would be in the arts.
Ho graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Hong Kong, in pursuit of her dream, even though she knew that she might eventually follow in her parents’ footsteps and go into business.
Today, Ho’s name is a staple in both the Hong Kong and Macao art scene. Recently, she has been focusing more on dedicating the greater part of her energy to projects here at home.
As the daughter of casino mogul Stanley Ho and Angela Leong, Managing Director and Chief Administrative Officer of Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, S.A., Ho admits she feels pressure from her parents, friends and society at large to be successful and continually produce new work and complete new projects. “When people have high expectations of you, it adds even greater pressure,” the 26‑year‑old admits.
When the family bought the former Regency Hotel Macau in Taipa, Ho decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to bring together the best of both her worlds: hospitality and art. “Revamping a hotel is more difficult than creating it from scratch. However, I saw the ideal place to create a space that provides young local creators an opportunity to exhibit their work and those interested in art the opportunity to see something different.” The hotel was thus placed in the hands of the 26‑year‑old and transformed into the Regency Art Hotel, the city’s only arts hotel.
Ho, who inherited and is inspired by her mother’s energy and drive, divides her time between Macao, Hong Kong and other international cities with strong art and fashion scenes. “Although I lived in the country when I studied in England, I became quite a city girl.”
Ho has many dreams and desires, and if she could have dinner with one being, living or deceased (or magical), she would choose the Genie in Aladdin’s lamp so that she could have three wishes granted.
Ho has been invited to be a member of the Committee of Cultural Industries of the Government of Macao SAR; she is also the founder of Chiu Yeng Culture Limited as well as the co‑founder of the auction house Poly Auction Macau Limited. As a young woman with great responsibilities, Ho is not at all daunted by her position of power, but she admits that being a businesswoman “in a still‑traditional society where women are expected to stay home” remains a challenge. But we are not worried: Ho seems quite up for the challenge.
Tracy Choi is an emerging filmmaker in Macao most notably recognised for winning the “Eye of the Audience” Award at the 2016 inaugural Macao International Film Festival and Awards.
The film Sisterhood – a story revolving around a lesbian couple – isn’t her first film to hit the big screen featuring this theme. The documentary I’m Here, which follows the personal narrative of Choi and a friend, earned her local and international recognition: she won the Jury Award at the 2012 Macao International Film and Video Festival and was invited to join numerous international festivals, including the line‑up of the Paris International Lesbian and Feminist Festival in France.
Her work has been praised for focusing on women and the reality of feminism and feminine identity in today’s society. As a result, all of her leading figures have thus far been women. Choi doesn’t reject the idea of featuring a male protagonist in her films one day, but she feels there is an abundance of compelling stories about women to tell first.
Born and bred in Macao, 26‑year‑old Choi got her bachelor’s degree in Film Production from Shih Hsin University in Taiwan and a master’s in the same field at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Having lived abroad has allowed her to see “that women in Macao have freedom of choice to do whatever they want with their lives. There isn’t only one path” – a realisation that she both appreciates and features in her work.
Choi’s inspiration and motivation to address taboo subjects that society would prefer not to discuss, such as homosexual relations, comes from the mother. The filmmaker prefers to view the world primarily as one in which equality is prioritised, a value instilled in her by her mother.
Overwhelming positive public reception of her women‑themed films reassures and bolsters the filmmaker that she is doing important and relevant work, but she acknowledges that the subject matter is difficult to present in a blockbuster movie. “People are still used to watching movies where a woman is looking to fall in love with the perfect man. And this man is always a kind of hero who is either a policeman or a firefighter,” Choi asserts.
For now, Choi is happy with her formula, despite its challenges. “I have a few options as to how to depict a lesbian relationship, but I try to avoid labels and to add new ideas. But I must admit that it’s becoming harder to find a new way of doing things.”
If she could have dinner with anyone living or deceased, Choi would love to meet writer Virginia Woolf, who she admires for being “so contemporary for her time.”
When you hear the words “karate champion,” the first image that most likely comes to mind is that of a robust, strong and intimidating male figure, like Bruce Lee, right? But what if we told you that one of Macao’s most prized karate fighters is a woman who fights with perfectly manicured nails, is an active member of her community and exemplifies an all‑around feminist?
Paula Carion exudes femininity: the 34‑year‑old athlete who won three medals at the 2014 Asian Games is all smiles off the mat and admits that she employs her “innate aggressiveness” and sheer physical strength to her advantage only during competition. Outside the competitive arena, she is a highly sociable person who enjoys being involved with the Macanese community in which she grew up.
Carion also enjoys the theatre and has even taken to the stage on a number of occasions to perform in plays scripted in Patuá – an old Portuguese‑based creole dialect from Macao – as a member of Dóçi Papiaçám Di Macau. The troupe presents revived satire annually at the Macao Arts Festival in an effort to preserve the history and cultural significance of the Patuá language.
The high‑ranking sportswoman has worked full‑time as a translator for the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Special Administrative Region since 2004.
Carion considers herself a “focused person who only stops having reached an objective,” a personality trait that motivates her to prove that women are the equals of their male counterparts. The eldest of three sisters, she admits to being the protective role model.
Having already met a number of inspiring women, Carion would love to meet Hillary Clinton. She admires Clinton’s strength and poise in handling not only the massive media coverage the U.S. presidential candidate recently experienced but also her personal “courage in facing [President] Donald Trump and dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s infidelity.”
Carion believes it is possible that Macao may have a female chief executive in just a matter of a few years. “A woman could definitely lead this city. There are already women in sufficient positions of power to get there, but the whole community would have to accept this reality. Ultimately, we women are not looking to be better, just equal!”