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Not what our ‘lolas’ fought for

It rained on Friday afternoon, just as different women’s (and men’s) groups assembled in front of the Commission on Elections offices to mark the 79th anniversary (on April 30) of Filipino women’s right to vote. But it did not rain on our parade.

Huddled under umbrellas or braving the raindrops, women spoke out—with their presence, their voices, their sisterhood—to celebrate the grant, 79 years ago, of the final recognition of our full citizenship in this country. At the same time, women denounced the misogynist trash talk that has characterized this year’s election campaign. Although the most outrageous remarks have been issuing from the potty mouth of the Davao City mayor, there have been other manifestations of the disdain with which male leaders (and even some of their female followers) hold women in general. It’s no accident, I think, that the dirty-mouthed Du-dirty has been shown in TV ads holding up the hand of the impresario of twerking. The naughty dance took place very early in the race, but it now seems quaintly anachronistic compared to what has since transpired.

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Those are just words, it was just a dance, some might say. But Trish, a survivor of childhood rape trauma who spoke at the rally, belied the innocuousness of the mayor’s words. “When I heard him say that joke,” said Trish, “everything came back to me.” She had spent years trying to forget the serial abuse, even writing a book about her experience and recovery and helping other girls recover from their own abuse, but when the mayor’s words hit public space, the memories came flooding back. “I couldn’t sleep for many nights afterwards,” she declared. Just words? Tell that to survivors whose trauma is recklessly stripped bare with every joke, every titter, every expression of disdain.

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Standing out amid the crowd were three women in baro’t saya, who came to the gathering to represent their grandmothers who had been among the early suffragists, the women who campaigned for all of 30 years so that women could win the right to vote.

Lyca Benitez Brown represented her grandmother Francisca Tirona Benitez, while Nina Lim Yuson spoke on behalf of her grandmother Pilar Hidalgo Lim. Lyca spoke fondly of her aunt, Helena Benitez, a pioneering feminist and former senator, who, from her hospital bed, bade Lyca to “make sure your panuelo (shoulder kerchief) is tied properly.” (Joining them in Filipiniana garb was Mel Alonzo, who, with Lyca and Nina, and myself, are members of the TOWNS Foundation which had put out an ad decrying the “rape joke” that same day.)

Don’t put our grandmothers’ and mothers’ efforts to waste, was their common theme. They exhorted the women gathered—and all other Filipino voters—not to elect the boorish, the reckless, those who hold such a low, hateful view of women that they threaten to undo the decades of progress to which the likes of the “panuelo activists” had devoted their lives.

Later, inside the Comelec building where a small delegation presented a proposed “Gender Sensitive Code of Conduct for Candidates and Political Parties,” the women met another descendant of a suffragist. She was Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, whose forebear Maria Paz Guanzon was likewise an avid campaigner for women’s rights.

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The proposed Code of Conduct was prepared mainly by Dr. Socorro Reyes of the Center for Legislative Development, with inputs from Prof. Aurora Javate de Dios of Miriam College’s Women and Gender Institute, and Aida S. Maranan of Wedpro.

Commissioner Guanzon received the document in her capacity as chair of the Comelec committee on gender relations, promising to consider the provisions of the proposed Code in the preparation of the poll body’s own Code of Conduct.

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The proposed “Gender-Sensitive Code of Conduct” addressed candidates, political parties, the Comelec, and the Commission on Human Rights. Among the more important provisions is the “strict prohibition” against “sexist remarks, jokes, songs that disrespect, insult, degrade women, the LGBT community, persons with disability, senior citizens, indigenous people and other marginalized groups.”

Another prohibition is that against “kissing, touching of women supporters and other sexual advances, welcome or unwelcome,” that constitute “unacceptable and unbecoming behavior.” Ditto with “hiring women to perform sexually suggestive dances such as twerking in campaign rallies.”

And in the wake of much bashing, shaming, mean memes and hostility that has exploded in social media during the campaign, the guidelines also exhort candidates to “strictly monitor their websites and other social media platforms for any gender-insensitive content or message.” The Code calls on candidates “to discipline their members, especially those who harass women by cursing or threatening them with rape and other forms of sexual violence.”

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INDEED, even Sr. Mary John Mananzan of the Institute of Women’s Studies of St. Scholastica’s College, who welcomed the participants, said that in the wake of her outspoken stance regarding the insensitive rape remarks, she received threats of being raped herself by online trolls.

Have we sunk so low? Have our candidates’ careless views and behavior incited their followers to attack and harass women—including a Catholic nun—who just happen to hold contrary views?

Adhering to a “law and order” agenda is all right, but not if that “lawlessness and disorder” is imposed by bullying, berating and beating (or killing) the helpless who just happen to disagree with their mob rule. This is not what our lolas fought for!

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TAGS: Elections 2016, elections featured, Rodrigo Duterte, women’s right to vote
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