THE gap between legal frameworks prohibiting sexism and a culture of tolerating sexism exposes how Filipinos still need to root out latent and insidious discrimination against women.
Many citizens condemned the banter laced with sex jokes that was exchanged by President Rodrigo Duterte and other officials winding up a Nov. 15 briefing on typhoon Ulysses.
During the publicly aired briefing, Duterte joked how “too many women” prematurely aged a classmate while speculating that being deprived of women was the real cause of death of a coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) victim.
Criticism against the President and officials was in turn defended by other citizens who saw no harm done in this kind of “men’s talk.”
On Nov. 16, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque explained that joking about sex is the President’s “way of coping” with the devastation suffered by Luzon communities after a string of typhoons. Roque observed that it was a Filipino trait to make light of misfortune.
The presidential propensity for inappropriate and insensitive remarks, usually directed at women, is clearly in conflict with legislation that prohibits and penalizes a culture of “bastos (indecency)” in order to create safer public spaces for women and other genders.
In 2016, the Quezon City Government became the first local government unit (LGU) to amend its gender and development code into an anti-catcalling ordinance that punishes an offender with a fine and jail term corresponding with light, medium and serious forms of harassment of women in public spaces.
Other LGUs took up the initiative to create safe cities and public spaces for all genders. The Manila City Government passed Ordinance No.7857, also known as the “Safe City for Women and Girls Ordinance of 2018,” followed by the Cebu City Government, which passed the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Ordinance in December 2019.
Localizing Republic Act 11313 (Safe Spaces Act of 2018), the Cebu City ordinance broadens catcalling as “unwanted remarks or action” directed at a person and expressing “misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist slurs,” reported the news website Rappler on Dec. 21, 2019.
Implementing the “Bawal Bastos” law requires the assertiveness of citizens to report and file a complaint in the women’s desk of police precincts.
The culture of sexism is condoned and encouraged by victims who ignore or make an excuse for acts of street lewdness. Another pernicious manifestation of this culture is the knee-jerk tendency to blame the victim by pointing out that a person invited an act of lewdness by dressing or acting in a way that did not invite respect.
Victim-blaming is part of the normalized anomalies that prop up patriarchies discriminating women and treating them as persons incapable of actualizing their potentials and opportunities, as well as possessing human rights.
President Duterte’s behavior and speech acts as a national leader should inspire citizens to follow the law, at the very least. Public protestations about “love for women” are still inverted manifestations of machismo when embedded in the condescension is a perception that objectifies and devalues women as sex objects.
Advocates for women’s welfare are moving to pass legislation that extends gender-safe spaces to the online portal, site of toxic incivility and sexism. To fight electronic violence against women (EVAW), a Anti-Gender-Based Electronic Violence Bill was approved by the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality in December 2019.
With the approach of Nov. 25, observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, pushing for safer, more inclusive places in the physical and virtual portals should be an advocacy embraced by citizens and public servants.
There is a thin line separating gender-targeted violence from wolf whistles, catcalls and green jokes. The line disappears when the highest leader of our country uses women for target practice.