The Stream

#BabaeAko: Is President Duterte’s behaviour sexist, or “taken out of context”?

Philippines president’s controversial remarks about women draw fire from activists.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte says he believes in the “competence and capability” of women – just not in all aspects of life.

Duterte, who has repeatedly raised the ire of human rights advocates and feminists with his strongman style and tendency to turn the topic of rape into a punchline, drew criticism on Sunday when he asked a female Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) to kiss him on the lips during a rally in Seoul, South Korea.

The woman says there was “no malice” in the president’s kiss, and Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque contends it was a “playful act” in line with Filipino culture. But Duterte’s critics – and many Filipino women – found the gesture to be just another example of what they say is his rampant misogyny.

“It would be very, very hard to stand your ground in a hall, a man with pursed lips on one side – a man known for unleashing torrents of abuse at those who displease him – and on the other, a seemingly titillated audience”, says journalist and women’s rights activist Inday Espina-Varona.

Alongside other feminist activists, Espina-Varona launched a campaign last month to combat what she calls his “macho-fascism“, using the hashtag #BabaeAko – or “I am a woman” – to highlight his disregard and displays of “naked power” toward women. Duterte sparked outrage in May for saying the Philippines’ next Ombudsman “must not be a politician and, more importantly, not a woman.”

The president’s administrators have pushed back against the campaign, noting that his behaviour has “always been taken out of context” and disavowing claims of misogyny.

“These allegations are clearly political”, says Christopher Go, the president’s Special Assistant. “He has high respect for women. In fact, he has pushed for local laws and created programs that uphold women’s rights while he was still mayor of Davao City including the landmark Women Development Code and the creation of the Integrated Gender Development Division of Davao City.”

The Stream takes a look at how Filipino women are influencing civil society, and whether President Rodrigo Duterte’s outlandish expression is sexist or merely “taken out of context.” 

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Inday Espina-Varona @indayevarona

Nicole Curato @NicoleCurato

Antonio P. Contreras @tontoncontreras
Professor, Political Science, De La Salle University


Read more:
Duterte draws criticism for ‘Miss Universe’ rape joke – Al Jazeera
Duterte kiss during South Korea visit draws disgust – Al Jazeera
Is it dangerous to be a woman in Duterte’s Philippines? – Asian Correspondent

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