On the commemoration of International Women’s Day today, March 8, the world honors women, recognize their achievements and contributions in building their communities and their countries in general, even as they continue to bear the primary burden of keeping hearth and home.
But as we honor them, we note with alarm the risks, threats and the dangers to women’s lives and well-being confronted by women as we exercise our rights and freedoms.
In the Philippines, the Duterte government has created the worst environment for Filipinas as women and as citizens of this country. Never in the country’s history had women been subjected to vicious attacks, profanities, shaming and humiliation of how women look, how they act, and the various profane sexual innuendos spewed out by this sexist President acting with impunity. From a comment on the rise of rape cases as due to the presence of numerous pretty women in a city, a comment on the good looks of an Undersecretary he promoted later to a cabinet level position, and to a unabashed public show of his claim of virility by kissing a migrant woman in one trip abroad in view of thousands of spectators – no one is spared. And the list can go on and on.
Duterte is particularly unsparing to his women critics and the opposition, from the profanities, slut-shaming and incarceration of an incumbent Senator, the cursing and threats to slap a woman UN Special Rapporteur, a vicious remark on the shapely legs of the Vice President of this country. Women human rights defenders are threatened with rape, not only death, to silence them. Women revolutionary combatants are ordered killed by shooting them in the vagina. All these illustrate the particular vulnerabilities of women under this macho, sexist and authoritarian President. And the tragedy of it all is that as these profanities spewed out a thousand times from the mouth of a misogynist President, it becomes normal in the culture of governance, potentially and systematically exposing women to more acts of discrimination, denigration and sexual violence as citizens and as they exercise their rights to speak against injustice or abuse of power.
Duterte’s brutal drug war has resulted in the killing without let-up of thousands of poor people, including women, youth and children, as extrajudicial executions continue under his deathly counterinsurgency program. The continuing illegal detention of hundreds of political prisoners (564 as of the last count, 64 are women and more than half were incarcerated under the Duterte regime) languishing in prison cells in various locations in the country, is equally devastating for women as they have to cope with the multiple challenges of providing income and care for their families, attending to the needs of imprisoned family members and seeking justice for wronged or killed loved ones. Being a woman political prisoner is distressful enough as they experience various forms of harassment, mostly sexual in nature, aside from enduring squalid overcrowded prisons typical of prisons under this neglectful government. Prison life does not end women’s responsibilities in keeping families intact, especially with the care of small and young children, putting to strain whatever sensibilities that remain with these women. These and more are the frequently unheard narratives of women under Duterte’s rule.
But all these will surely come to an end. Filipino women continue to be in the frontlines of the campaigns against authoritarian rule, taking lead in the resistance against militarization of their communities, taking up leadership roles in advocacy actions at various domestic and international platforms to expose the crimes of the Duterte regime, forging on as enablers of actions to resist policies and laws that restrict rights and freedoms, storming the halls of courts and legislature challenging lawfare and the weaponization of law as it is used to quell legitimate dissent and, in multitudes, occupying all available spaces for struggles and resistance, in the streets, in picketlines, and schools.
This fascist and chauvinist President will soon meet his fate in history – a president toppled by the mighty force of a united freedom-loving people and in prison for the rest of his life for all the crimes he has committed against women and the Filipino people, his legacy written as the most corrupt, most brutal, fascist and sexist President this country ever had.