Women in the Philippines Have Had Enough of President Duterte's 'Macho' Leadership
As Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte prepared for his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, his third since assuming power in 2016, protesters took to the streets in and around Manila. Police expected around 40,000 protesters against his administration and 40,000 in favor of the controversial leader.
Among those anti-government protesters are womenâs rights activists, who have increasingly been speaking out against the Duterte administration. Since taking office in June 2016, the 73-year-old leader has ordered soldiers to shoot female rebels âin the vagina,â made inappropriate comments about his female Vice Presidentâs legs, joked about raping Miss Universe, and equated having a second wife to keeping a âspare tireâ in the trunk of a car.
âWhen he says these things, heâs sending out a message to all m en out there that âI get away with it, so you can,'â says Inday Espina-Varona, a 54-year-old journalist and one of several co-founders of the #BabaeAko movement. Translated as âI Am Woman,â the social media campaign began in May after Duterte declared that the next Chief Justice of the Philippines could not be a woman.
For some, the Philippinesâ position in World Economic Forumâs top ten countries in the world for gender equality merely masks deeper cracks in society. The country of 103 million may have had two female presidents, but Duterte has nevertheless managed to capitalize on a deeply-entrenched strain of misogyny. Just as women across the U.S. have come together to protest President Donald Trumpâs comments, including his boast about grabbing women by the pussy, w omen in the Philippines have now mobilized to call out sexism in the Duterte administration.
Both veterans and newcomers to the Philippine womenâs rights movement took part in Mondayâs march in Manila, along with several other rights groups in their own version of a SONA. âWe knew we had to get together to answer him,â says 55-year-old actress May Paner, another co-founder of #BabaeAko. Under the hashtag, women across the Philippines uploaded videos of themselves to social media platforms calling out Duterteâs sexist rhetoric. Among them were high-profile female leaders, including Congress representatives, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, and a former cabinet member of the Duterte administration, Judy Taguiwalo.
That did nothing to stop Duterte, who kissed a married woman in front of an audience of overseas Filipino workers on June 4 in Seoul, South Korea. (Although the woman later said that there was âno maliceâ in the kiss, the stunt was condemned by politicians and womenâs rights groups as an abuse of power.) The kiss prompted the womenâs movement to take to the streets eight days later, with some calling for his resignation.
âThat kiss has been framed as a playful gesture of a father to one of his children, which resonates with many women who feel they have to tolerate this behavior as it is more costly to point out,â says Sharmila Parmanand, PhD candidate in Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge. âThere is still this very overt sexualization of women, and the infrastructure to combat sexism is struggling against a political culture that is still very patriarchal.â
Although a recent McKinsey report also showed that the Philippines leads the Asia-Pacific Region on gender equality in the workplace, many women still say thereâs a long way to go more generally. âWe have to look at what type of gender equality are we talking about when there are all these festering pushbacks against the status of women in Philippine society,â Maria Tanyag, research fellow at Monash Universityâs Gender, Peace and Security Department in Melbourne, tells TIME. The Catholic Church wields a strong influence in the country, where abortion and divorce are still illegal. Activists are pushing to raise the countryâs age of consent up from 12 years old, which is the lowest in Asia, and despite the passing of a landmark reproductive health bill under the previous administration, observers say the countryâs sexual education fr amework still falls short. And a series of blunders in the past year illustrate broader underlying sexist attitudes, including a marketing campaign run by San Miguel beer that was criticized for promoting rape culture, a callout for game show contestants with âsexy legs,â and a police-issued rape prevention poster that advised women not to âdress provocatively.â
To his critics, Duterteâs sexism has emboldened others. The president has not shied away from using gendered insults and threats, particularly against female critics both in the Philippines and abroad. Vice President Leni Robredo, a political opponent of Duterte, has slammed his âtastelessâ remarks about her legs and âshort skirt.â Senator Leila de Lima, a strong critic of the drugs war, filed a lawsuit against Du terte in 2016, alleging sexual harassment and slut shaming after he alluded to owning a sex tape of her and her driver. The President has even made lewd comments about foreign representatives, such as a United Nations representative whom he derided as a âdaughter of a whoreâ after she investigated extrajudicial killings as part of the countryâs war on drugs.
âIt was really that impact of Duterte coming into power and making terrible statements about women that fueled my fire. I saw that there was something that needed to be done,â says Mich Dulce, a co-founder of Grrrl Gang Manila, a feminist collective created in March 2017. It holds regular safe space meet-ups for women and girls in the Philippine capital on themes such as âFeminism 101â and âToxic Masculinity,â tied to gether with music performances, demonstrations and talks in local schools and workplaces about the barriers women face. âItâs just like Trump, where people who didnât care before are looking for ways to make a change,â says 37-year-old Dulce, who also fronts an all-women feminist punk band called The Male Gaze. âWe are not the only group or collective that came out of that timeâ"itâs part of a whole conscious collective, where we are all reacting to the same things,â agrees fellow co-founder Marla Darwin.
Official from the administration have dismissed criticisms of sexism and misogyny as âover-act ingâ and taking Duterte too seriously. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has used this defense of Duterteâs behavior multiple times, imploring critics to ânot take the words of the President literally, but of course, we should take the Presidentâs word seriously.â Another top aide has condemned the #BabaeAko movement as âclearly political,â and Duterte himself has batted away backlash against the incident in Seoul by saying critics were âjust jealous.â
Duterte is not the first strongman leader in Philippine politics, but his comments reflect something deeper about his style of government and the kind of leader he wants to be. For many Filipinos, President Ferdinand Marcosâ dictatorship and brutal rule through martial law in the 1970s remains a fresh memory. And today, Duterte has Southeast Asian âstrongmanâ compatriots in the form of Cambodiaâs Hun Sen and Thailandâs Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump further afield. âWe are seeing the exaggeration of masculinity to serve a purpose to legitimize certain foreign and domestic policies,â Tanyag tells TIME, speaking of this broader trend.
Indeed, Duterteâs macho leadership may have a more pragmatic basis, particularly regarding the war on drugsâ"arguably the centerpiece of his domestic policies. Philippine authorities say 4,500 drug suspects have been killed since July 2016, although human rights observers estimate that the number is closer to 12,000. âThere is this macho mindset of the war on drugs being justified because it protects women and children,â Parmanand says, calling this rhetoric âbenevolent paternalism.â In fact, the drug war has had a major impact on women and childr en, whether because of losing family members or facing financial difficulty due to lower family incomes as a result of extrajudicial killings.
Beyond the drug war, Duteteâs leadership has displayed hallmarks of âhypermasculinityâ elsewhere, Tanyag says. In May 2017, the southern island of Mindanao was placed under martial law after ISIS-backed militants seized the city of Marawi. Despite the government declaring victory over the extremists in October, Duterte was granted the power to extend martial law in the region for a further year the following month, with critics arguing against increased powers for the military. According to Tanyag, this kind of reaction from the president shows that he âprioritizes violence, domination and aggressionâ in his leadership.
As Duterteâs leadership becomes a major cause for concern, women of all ages have come together to protest. âHis actions are reversing so many of the gains we had worked so hard for,â says Teresita Quintos Deles, one of the countryâs most prominent civil society advocates and chair-convener of EveryWoman, a coalition of womenâs rights organizations from across the Philippines.
Speaking ahead of Mondayâs march, Deles sounded energized, looking forward to marching with women from all sections of Philippine society. âI thought I had fought the fight of my lifetime already,â Deles says, referring to her activism for womenâs rights and peacemaking after the ouster of President Marcos and under the leadership of President Aquino. âI didnât think I would have to do this again at the age of 69, but we are back marching in the streets again, and the happy thing is that is it intergenerational.â
Members of Grrrl Gang Manila, as well as the #BabaeAko founders are also marching, with supporters wearing purple and fuchsia to mark the traditional colors of the Philippine womenâs movement. âYoung Filipinas are taking up action and recognizing that yes, there is a thread that criss crosses the generations, and that sisterhood is real,â says Deles. âMore and more people are saying that this canât be the end of our story.âSource: Google News Philippines | Netizen 24 Philippines