This world leader manages to make Trump's comments on women look tame

This world leader manages to make Trump's comments on women look tame

Like him or loathe him, after just one year in office, President Donald Trump has already had a big impact on the lives of women across America. In January 2018, hundreds of thousands of people across the country turned out to women’s marches protesting, among other things, cuts to women’s healthcare funding and the reversal of employment laws designed to protect women in the workplace. Yet, one of the areas where he has drawn most criticism are words regarding women, as opposed to his actions.

No one can forget that time he was caught bragging that he could kiss women without permission because: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything” even going so far as to utter the now infamous words: “Grab ’em by the pussy.” You’d think it couldn’t get much worse, right? That no other country would give the time of day to a leader not only glamourising, but bragging about sexual assault? Well, allow me to introduce you to Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte, who somehow pretty much manages to make Trump look like god’s gift to women.

Elected into office in May 2016, Duterte might possibly be the definition of a "couldn't care less" politician. Since assuming power, he has pursued an aggressive anti-drugs policy which has seen him urge citizens to murder drug addicts and drug pushers, and given free-reign to state-sponsored death squads. So far, over 8,000 people are believed to have been killed and the International Criminal Court is now debating whether to charge him with crimes against humanity. But while the world’s attention has been focused on this drug crackdown, his actions towards women have been slipping under the radar.

"Shoot you in the vagina"

In February 2018, Duterte gave a speech to over 200 former communist fighters, instructing them that they should tell female rebels that: "There’s a new order coming from the mayor. We won’t kill you. We will just shoot your vagina." According to local media reports, he continued: "If there is no vagina, it would be useless," - the "it" in this case being the woman. His spokesman, Harry Roque, was quick to dismiss the comments as something to be taken "seriously, but not literally", whatever that means, adding: "I mean, that’s funny. Come on. Just laugh." Yes, side-splitting.  

42 virgins

Just a month earlier, Duterte also caused controversy when, during a speech to Indian and Filipino businessmen in New Delhi, he appeared to offer 42 virgins to tourists willing to come to his country. Referencing the motivations of Muslim rebel fighters, the notorious womaniser explained to the audience that: "The come-on is that if you die a martyr, you go to heaven with 42 virgins waiting for you," before proclaiming: "Well, if I could just make it a come-on also for those who'd like to go to my country." If that wasn't enough, he helpfully clarified: "I'd like to have the virgins here, not in heaven." Unsurprisingly, he was heavily panned by women’s groups for the remarks.

So was this a joke, or not?

As a leader that came to power partly on the basis that during his time as mayor he cut crime dramatically, you'd probably think that Duterte would be pretty hot on criticising rapists, right? Uh, not exactly: "What I don't like are kids (being raped.) You can mess with, maybe Miss Universe. Maybe I will even congratulate you for having the balls to rape somebody when you know you are going to die," he commented. But while many were quick to criticise the 'funnyman' for making light of sexual assault, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abell later came out to set the record straight: "We need to understand what he really said. Basically it’s not a joke. It’s a very serious statement. " I think I preferred it when it was a joke.

That time he lamented not taking part in a gang rape and murder

In 1989, Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill was gang-raped and killed during a jail seige in Davao City, where Duterte was the mayor. But while any other leader would have been quick to condemn such actions, Duterte decided during his presidential campaign that time was nigh for one of his famous ‘jokes’, commenting that: "I was angry because she was raped, that's one thing … but she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste." 

In a rare show of contrition, Duterte issued an apology - but before you get too excited, you should also know that he also retracted it, saying his camp had put it out without his permission. So close.

Three strikes and you're out 

While seeking to reassure soldiers fighting against ISIS-linked rebels on the southern Filipino island of Mindanao, Duterte instructed them that while he would not tolerate abuses of power, he would take personal responsibility for actions that occurred under martial law. While this might not sound too outrageous in itself, it's the way he illustrated this point that was: "I'll imprison you myself," he said, referring to any soldiers who commit violations, before joking that: "If you had raped three [women], I will admit it, that's on me." So go ahead, but remember, three is your limit.

President Duterte walking with a woman Credit: Flickr/ ilocosnorte

While advocates of Duterte will say that there have been some women's rights victories under his leadership, including the handing out of free contraceptives in Davao City and the pushing through of a reproductive health bill despite the opposition of the country’s powerful Catholic Church, these are tempered by the continuation of rape jokes, misogynistic statements and misleading statements that put women at risk. On Valentine's Day 2018, for example, he urged men not to use condoms because they reduce the pleasure of sex - apparently family planning is a woman's responsibility alone.

For his part, Donald Trump has so far repeatedly refused to speak ill of Duterte, even praising the leader - who has compared himself to Hitler - for doing an "incredible job". Whatever your opinion of either of these men, their continued presence on the world stage seems to mark some sort of shift backwards, just at a time when women seem to be pushing forward in terms of demanding equality. Because it's hard to see how women will ever be considered equal or worthy of respect in a country where the leader is willing to write women off as nothing more than walking vaginas.