Rape jokes? These women aren't laughing
MANILA, Philippines – "When you are single and you have children, ang tawag du'n e naano lang (that just means you were used)."
"Dapat ang mayor muna ang mauna." (The mayor should have gone first.)
A theater performance by Miriam College students during the celebration of International Women's Day on Friday, March 8, began with speakers blasting an audio compilation of these remarks. These statements came from some of the most prominent personalities of the country, including the President himself.
The crowd at La Madre Filipina, Luneta was silent, but this silence was loud and clear: women have had enough of the blatant misogyny.
Kara Taggaoa, 21, activist and women empowerment advocate, recalled the irony of receiving Facebook messages from strangers, on the day of itself of the celebration, saying it was a shame that a pretty face like hers joined rallies.
"Ino-objectify nila ako. Tinatanong nila ako, puwede ba raw akong i-sex. Virgin ba raw ako (They were objectifying me, asking me if I wanted to have sex with them, or if I was still a virgin)," Taggaoa said, expounding on the lewd comments she had received.
Jenel Azotes, 23, shared about overhearing a group of male friends making sexual jokes about a woman. While refusing to elaborate on the joke, Azotes explained she felt uncomfortable even if the jokes were not directed at her.
Taggaoa's and Azotes' accounts are only two of the thousands of cases of sexual harassment in the country.
There are 2,962 reported rape cases nationwide from January to May 2018 alone according to PNP statistics, said Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas in her International Women's Day protest statement. President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown, Davao, topped rape case statistics in the second quarter of the same year, which the President then explained was because Davao is home to beautiful women.
In an in-depth Rappler report, Miriam College Women and Gender Institute (WAGI) Executive Director Theresa de Vela explained the harm behind Duterte's remarks, as they normalize rape and sexual harassment.
"When you have a President doing that, you're adding to, reinforcing that sexual script that says sexual violence is acceptable behavior and is part of the male behavior to be in society. It is manly. It's what makes you an attractive male, 'Tunay na lalaki ay ganito' (This is what a real man is like)," De Vela said.
Duterte's and other public personalities' superficial approach toward rape was one of the issues addressed in the March 8 protest in Luneta. Gabriela Women's Party Representative Emmi de Jesus explained in an interview that Duterte's constant trivializing of rape breeds a culture of impunity.
"Malinaw talaga ang kanyang pagiging misogynist kasi sa kanyang mga pinagsasabi na parang galit na galit siya sa women at ginagawa niyang katatawanan. Ito ang tingin namin, compounded 'yung mga pinagsasabi niya sa economic, political [manifestations of misogyny]. Ang mangyayari, nagbi-breed 'yan ng culture of impunity, ibig sabihin napapalampas ang iba’t ibang kawalang-hiyaan," De Jesus said.
(It is very clear that Duterte is a misogynist based on what he's been saying; he's very angry at women and makes them a laughing matter. We believe his statements are compounded with his economic political manifestations of misogyny. In turn, it breeds a culture of impunity and condones offensive acts.)
Women feel unsafe
This culture of impunity imposes fear among women.
Going back to Azotes' experience with her male friends and their sexually suggestive jokes, she was disturbed by what she had overheard and found herself confronting two of them about it.
"[Dahil] kung ako 'yung nasa situation ng babae kahit na parang joke lang, hindi maganda sa feeling 'yung mga sinasabi [nila] (If I were in the girl’s situation, even if it was only a joke, it would’ve made me feel uncomfortable)," said Azotes. She added that if verbal harassment is treated lightly, offenders will become used to denying accountability and downplaying it as "just a joke."
Mamaki Mariam, 46, single parent and attendee of the Women’s Day protest, shared she feared for her daughters' and fellow women's safety in the streets.
"May mga anak ako na babae, ayoko rin 'yung may mangyari sa kanila na ma-rape, mabastos (I have daughters, and I would not want them to get raped or derided)," Mamaki explained.
Existing laws have been legislated to protect both women and men from sexual harassment and rape. But statistics show that things have yet to get better for women.
This year's localized theme for International Women’s Day, "Tama na! Sulong kababaihan! (Enough! Onward march, women!)" called on the government to put an end to women's suffering and allow for pro-women policies. In a separate interview, feminist Mae Paner, better known as Juana Change, explained the reason behind the theme.
"We want an end to all the suffering given and experienced by women. There are deaths, impunity, there's injustice, corruption, there’s fear, and to all of that, the President has become the main source," Paner said.
De Jesus also said that President Duterte's misogyny manifests not only in his words but also in the policies he pushes forward, as anti-poor policies further oppress poor women.
"Ang challenge talaga sa gobyerno, sa estado, at sa iba't iba pang institutions natin ay 'yung praktika. Ano ba talaga ang kailangang gawin to alleviate the situation of women, especially [to fight] for their rights and welfare?" De Jesus said. (The real challenges for the government, the state, and other insitutions is practice. What do we really need to do to alleviate the situation of women, especially to fight for their rights and welfare?)
Public school teacher Vyne Tesorero, 27, also called for "putting to practice" women empowerment programs in schools, since she recounted still experiencing discrimination.
"Nagwo-women empowerment tayo pero hindi prina-practice sa baba. 'Yung women empowerment na ginagawa ng mga eskuwelahan, hindi lang siya dapat palamuti, dapat ina-apply siya sa policies," Tesorero said. (We call for women empowerment but we don't practice in the grassroots level. Women empowerment activities in schools shouldn't just be for show, but should be applied in policies.)
This does not only apply to workplace policies but also to publication policies, as gender discrimination, Tesorero said, is still prevalent in school textbooks.
But more than strengthening policies, women in the protest called for everyone to join the march, and to not tolerate any behavior that is harmful to women.
De Jesus, Paner, Taggaoa, Azotes, Mamaki, and Tesorero – all are women who decided to finally rise up and stand together, braving the fight against a system that has long oppressed women. They won't tolerate lewd jokes, much less laugh at them; complicity bears no place in the ceaseless struggle against misogyny.
"I believe it is only in unity that we can succeed to defeat the enemy," said Paner. - Rappler.com
Sofia Virtudes is a Rappler intern.