'Difficult time for women' under Duterte admin – Robredo

MANILA, Philippines – The Global Gender Gap Report of 2016 ranked the Philippines 7th among the 10 most gender equal countries in the world, but Vice President Leni Robredo said there is still much work to be done, given that the country is at a "difficult time for women, especially women politicians."

In fact, she thinks the country has slid back to being accepting of mysogyny and bigotry.  

"Before this administration started, I felt we were already doing good strides as far as gender and equality is concerned. We are talking about women empowerment already increasing. Our numbers are [high] as far as women in politics," Robredo told Rappler's Maria Ressa in an interview on the celebration of the International Women's Day on Wednesday, March 8.

"And then this happened. It's as if we are transported back [to] the time where misogyny and bigotry is accepted," the Vice President added. 

Robredo had been the subject of President Rodrigo Duterte playful – sometimes bordering inappropriate and offensive – behavior toward women.

"While I was still in the Cabinet, I [had] to bear a lot of misogynistic remarks half meant as a joke," Robredo recalled.

These remarks were made public during the 3rd anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda in November 2016, when Duterte joked that he was oggling at Robredo's legs during one Cabinet meeting. (READ: Leni Robredo on Duterte's 'tasteless remarks'

"Many other women politicians are disadvantaged now because there is a prevailing culture of misogyny. [There are] double standards again in society – how intolerant our people are to the faults of women politicians but very tolerant of our male counterparts," Robredo said.

Among the female politicians who have had a difficult time under the Duterte administration is Robredo's party mate, Liberal Party Senator Leila de Lima.

The staunch critic of the President has been arrested for her alleged protection of drug operations inside the New Bilibid Prison when she was justice secretary. This was preceded by a congressional inquiry, where lawmakers asked intrusive questions, including De Lima's intimate relationship with her former driver and alleged bagman Ronnie Dayan.

Empowering women

Robredo urged other women to stand up against abuses.

"I have talked to a lot of women who have gone through this and always, the question is, 'Where do i draw a line?' For every woman who goes or might go through [this], it should always be very clear where the tipping point will be," the Vice President said.

Beyond calling on women to stand up for their rights, Robredo is working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the program called "Babaenihan." It aims to raise awareness among women, especially those in the rural areas, about their rights. 

"The end game of the program is really empowerment [with the] belief that if women understand everything that has been going around, they will be more empowered. And with empowerment comes a lot of things – you know, the courage to fight back, the courage to make their voices heard, and the courage to engage not only the government but several sectors of society," she explained.

She also has a partnership with the University of the Philippines Center for Women and Gender Studies called "Angat Bayi" (Lift Women Up). An offshoot of her flagship anti-poverty framework "Angat Buhay," the program seeks to improve the capacity of women political leaders. 

Through these empowerment programs, Robredo is pinning her hopes on every woman to "maximize the power" to hurdle obstacles to their development.

"The power lies in our hands. We cannot really depend on the government, we cannot depend on one leader or any group. It is up to us to choose the route we have to take, it is up to us to maximize those power. Whatever difficulties we are going through the solution is still within us." – Rappler.com

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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