Further fueled by the #MeToo and other women empowerment movements, activists all over the world banned together on Thursday, March 8 for International Women’s Day.
In the Philippines, activists joined the amplified voices by challenging the country’s own struggles both in the streets, offices, and online through hashtags like #SheInspiresMe and #ArawngKababaihan.
The worldwide event took place during National Women’s Month, which the government’s Philippine Commission on Women gave the theme “We Make Change Work for Women.”
Donning pink and purple shirts, activists gathered at Manila’s Plaza Miranda, marching and raising flowers and banners in the air.
Central to the protests was Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who has long been condemned by human rights watch groups not only for his controversial war on drugs, but for his demeaning and derogatory remarks targeted towards women.
“We’re so alarmed,” Jean Enriquez, one of the protest leaders, told The Associated Press. “We have seen his direct attacks on women under his iron-hand rule and it’s now time to heighten our resistance.”
Last month, Duterte made headlines for his latest misogynistic comment, directing his soldiers to shoot female communist rebels in their vagina. He added, “if there is no vagina, it would be useless.”
The president has made many rape jokes in the past — he made one about raping an Australian missionary, last year’s Miss Universe, and even gave his soldiers permission to rape up to three women amid concerns over martial law in Marawi.
Earlier this year, the president offered visitors to the Philippines “42 virgins” during a trip to India.
His administration has repeatedly said that his words should not be taken seriously.
‘Teach young boys to wash their own clothes’
At a Procter and Gamble (P&G) Philippines Women’s Symposium event, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo — who has received her share of criticism from Duterte — highlighted some of the current challenges regarding gender equality in the country. She cited the 2017 Global Gender Gap study that held the Philippines at tenth place, three spots down from seventh place in 2016.
Robredo touched on the worsening performance of wage equality, saying that women have to work twice as hard as men.
“Only 50 percent of our women today have access to jobs contrary to more than 80 percent of our men in the workforce,” said Robredo, adding that in the ASEAN community, a large number of highly education women are unemployed.
Women account for 11.2 million of the Philippines’ poor population.
Robredo took an optimistic tone saying that Filipinas enjoy more civil liberties like getting education and being able to work alongside men — freedoms not available to many women in other countries.
“But violence against women continues to be a part of so many Filipina’s narratives,” she added.
Focusing on social media as being an facilitator for harassment of women and girls, she said both her and her daughters have been on the receiving end of harassment.
Robredo also touched on the #MeToo movement and said, “The movement is as powerful online as it is on the streets. In recounting their experiences of harassment, these women reel in those who are still in the shadows.”
Recounting her days as a human rights lawyer, Robredo said she worked with a lot of abused women who opened her eyes to why Filipinas need empowerment.
She challenged Filipinos to break away from gender stereotypes starting in the home.
“Fathers can socialize for as long as they want after office hours. But mothers are expected to go home straight from work to do more work at home. We cannot let this continue. We can change this by raising our children to treat women with respect and to be aware of the need for gender equality,” said Robredo. “Perhaps we can begin by teaching our young boys at home to wash their own clothes.”
In conjunction with International Women’s Day, companies also took on their own campaigns to address women empowerment. P&G had its #JuanWash campaign that looked to tackle gender bias in housework.
For ride-hailing company Uber, a campaign titled #DrivenWomen was launched in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries to showcase the stories of their female driver-partners.
One driver, Teresita Sebastian, founded her own shoe business with her partner, selling shoes locally crafted in Launga and sold to buyers in Bukidnon, CDO, Tacloban, and Davao.
“I opened my business not just because I wanted to be my own boss, but also because I get to spend with the love of my life,” said Sebastian.
Marife Andaya paid her own way through college and became a systems engineer.
“We didn’t come from a rich family, but that never really stopped me from working many jobs in different industries like call centers or fast food chains to provide for my own college education,” shared Andaya.
Another driver, Minerva Sanchez, was part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and one of the only female volunteers to rescue families following Typhoon Ondoy. She said, “I know I had to be physically fit to do the job, but when you see all those people who need help, you will just really go for it.”
“It’s an honor to be able to serve the country,” added Sanchez.
Vivian Meneses, has been the sold provider for her family for 13 years following her husband’s death, and in her story said, “I faced many obstacles as a single parents, but I know that I could do anything to make ends meet.”
‘Island Women Rise’
Emerging Filipina-American rapper Ruby Ibarra who recently made her national debut in a Mastercard commercial, released her music video for her song “Us” on International Women’s Day. Received as a power anthem for Filipina women, the song got many positive responses online.
Featuring other female Fil-Am rappers Rocky Rivera and Faith Santilla, the song starts off with the lyrics, “Island woman rise, walang makakatigil (no one can stop us). Brown, brown woman, rise, alamin ang yun ugat (know your roots).”
The video featured the three women rapping in both English and Tagalog, between montages of Filipina women dressed in traditional regional clothes performing dances from the respective regions.
Ibarra tweeted, “Imagery is powerful. Representation is everything. I hope young Pinays who watch/will watch #US will see the video and think, ‘she looks like me’ or ‘she is the shame shade as me.’ Mestiza, morena — both are equally beautiful and deserve representation. #f*ckcolorism.”
Among the responses online, Twitter user @jake_delro tweeted, “Filipinas now let’s get in Formation.”
User @mochiddeoki said, “Can I just say thank you? Never have I ever seen such raw emotion and passion for Filipinas. I was always told that we, Filipinas, just needed to be prim and proper and well behaved. But idk, this [music video] & song [really] changed that for me. We are strong. We are different. We are Filipinas.”