Manila. Philippines – A global coalition that supports women human rights defenders has expressed grave concern over President Rodrigo Duterte’s suppsoed displays of sexism and misogyny.
In a statement, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition said the president and his officials “have normalized the discourse of sexual violence, sexism and misogyny through his actions and pronouncements against women.”
“These actions exacerbate and perpetuate the systemic and systematic oppression and dispossession of the majority of poor and marginalized women who continue to bear the consequences of neoliberal economic policies, authoritarian rule and perpetuating patriarchal culture in the Philippines,” WHRD-IC said.
Duterte, known for his offhand comments, challenged his critics to spit on him if they find irregularities in his bank account. He took the saliva reference further, saying, “You can be rude to me, but if you’re a beautiful woman who spits on me, I’ll get your saliva.”
In a press briefing on Monday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo explained away the remarks as part of the president’s style. “That style made him the president,” he said.
The chief executive has many times drawn the ire of women’s groups for his sexist and misogynistic remarks and behavior.
Since becoming the country’s leader in June 2016, Duterte has ordered soldiers to shoot female rebels “in the vagina,” joked about using virgins to promote tourism in the country and kissed a married Filipino migrant worker in South Korea.
Harry Roque, a previous presidential spokesman, had defended the kiss as a “playful act”, but admitted in a television interview this month that it was inappropriate.
“I thought I was going to die… I felt that I should have run and pulled him. ‘Come here, let us go here, Mr. President,’” he said then.
The president’s defenders, including a lawmaker who identifies as a feminist, have said critics should instead look at Duterte’s programs as president and while mayor of Davao City, which include a ban on contestants wearing swimsuits in beauty pageants.
Attacks on women rights defenders
WHRD-IC also condemned the attacks and criminalization of women human rights defenders in the country.
It noted that at least 33 women human rights defenders have been killed and a hundred more facing criminal charges during the Duterte administrations.
“Targeting women human rights defenders by killing and listing them as enemies of the state makes it evident that the Duterte administration is going on all-out war against human rights defenders who dare to speak against rights violations and the prevalent culture of impunity in the Philippines,” WHRD-IC said.
Women rights defenders also experience harassments, threats and are branded “enemies of the state,” the coalition added.
“The government’s actions against human rights defenders hinder and delegitimize their work to defend women’s and human rights,” it said.