News that Filipino women have banded together to protest President Duterte’s most recent pronouncement demeaning women comes as a belated, but no less welcome, response to what comes across as an appalling lack of sensitivity in a national leader.
The dam has broken; there simply is no excuse for the President’s serial sexism, said the women who on Friday launched a social media campaign to expose and oppose his sexist behavior.
Using the hashtag #BabaeAko (I am a woman), Filipino women are speaking out in short videos that hold Mr. Duterte to account for his misogyny. After a quick introduction, the woman posting the video delivers a bold message: “Lalaban ako!” (I will fight!)
Mr. Duterte’s latest volley was in response to a question as to what qualities he was looking for in the person who will succeed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales when she retires in July. He said he wanted someone whom people can believe in, someone with integrity, “someone not a politician, and certainly not a woman.”
People have begun to wonder: What could he have against women? Barely two years into his term, he has managed to insult and humiliate just about every woman who dared distinguish herself either through leadership, looks, gumption, or sense of duty.
Who can forget how he made light of the gang rape of an Australian missionary who was killed in a prison riot when he was mayor of Davao City? She was so beautiful the mayor should have gone first, he quipped during the presidential campaign.
Before he eased Vice President Leni Robredo out of his Cabinet, he would tease her publicly about her “smooth knees.” Later, he would tell OFWs in Hong Kong: Did the VP want to oust him? Well, she can marry him instead, so they can rule together.
Of his fiercest critic, Sen. Leila de Lima, the President claimed in his speeches that there was a sex video of her and her driver, but that he would lose his appetite when he watched it.
He warned Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on human rights, that she better shut up about his human rights record or he’d slap her.
Of ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who dared imply that it was he who was behind the quo warranto petition against her, he said: “Ignorante ka. Torpe.” (You’re ignorant and dumb.)
When the International Monetary Fund reported that the Philippine economy grew less than expected, he said of its managing director Christine Lagarde: “You only have to pull her aside and kiss her, and she’d change her mind.”
And the global media feasted on reports that he had directed the Philippine military to shoot female insurgents “in the vagina” to render them useless.
Supporters of Mr. Duterte — and they are legion — explain his words as just that, part of his folksy character and tough-talking mass appeal.
He is prone to exaggeration, former Gabriela women’s representative Luz Ilagan, for one, said.
Others describe him as a “benevolent sexist,” who had put in place women-friendly laws and policies when he was Davao mayor, among them the Women Development Code, the Violence Against Women help desks, free legal assistance for abused women, and reproductive health programs, such as free tubal ligation for impoverished women.
Fine. But as the President, his words have the weight of law even if they are offensive and damaging to gender equality and women’s dignity.
What he dismisses as mere jokes may end up as threats to women’s safety because his words constantly identify women only on the basis of their looks and their supposed weaknesses.
Maybe he has merely overlooked women’s worth?
Women’s work empowers the economy, according to United Nations studies. Imagine if women, who make up half the world’s labor force, choose to stay home and refuse to do productive work because they feel that their leader’s words demean, diminish and endanger them.
Consider, too, how women are largely responsible for making ends meet and ensuring that the household operates smoothly. Where would the menfolk be without women tending to their needs? With women farmers growing and processing food, can the world survive without them?
Perhaps the President need only think of his own mother, the legendary activist Soledad Duterte. It is known that he loved and respected her. For sure, she would have wanted respect for other women, too.
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