Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Time for Transformation

Time for Transformation


The sight of a populist President coercing a migrant woman to ‘kiss’ him in South Korea has caused outrage by many and confusion amongst others.
Obviously this scenario represents a cumulative effect of many political, economic, social and cultural issues in the Philippines.
Populist leaders multiple ‘performances’ are known to act as a distraction from failures to deliver on policies – something not new to Philippine politics.
The positive impact of the ‘performance’ was enriched by many things; including celebrity culture, the overvaluing of male attention by some women and the desire to seek alignment with the powerful in a hierarchical society where the realization of rights is largely absent.
This performance was not solely for the audience, being also ‘dog-whistle’ politics to other misogynist and sexist men including those in South Korea and the Philippines. A President behaving this way sends a message that women have unequal political status and men can take advantage of pervasive sexual inequalities. Progressive men hopefully will push the debate to challenge gender inequality, any dominant gender ideologies that validate powerful violent male stereotypes and also challenge benevolent chaunivism. This would lay the foundations for women’s safety and the conditions for a different type of leader (including a woman on her own merit) to be elected.
The Women’s movement watching in horror will no doubt continue to challenge the patriarchy and gender stereotypes and the traditional Catholic Church, which blocks desperately needed sex education for healthy intimate relationships. In the void the template for sexual relations is filled by commercial mainstream pornography that feeds male entitlement to women’s bodies and a subversient position for women, undermining positive relationships. Consciousness-raising about rape culture and about the reality of female powerlessness associated with conforming to a stereotype appearance for the male gaze, could also contribute to change.
Finally the issue of the migrant audience: Political performance and emotional nationalist rhetoric by successive Philippine governments has a long history in perpetuating the labour migration regime with its essential flow of remittances for the Philippine economy.
The patriarchal nature of the labour migration regime is also well known.
The sensationally named “sex-for-flight” scandal in 2013 revealed an abhorrent systemic exploitation and commodification of women's bodies. Government officials abused female migrant workers during their stay in Philippine Embassy shelters in several countries in the Middle East. Serious allegations included: sexual harassment, abuse of power by demanding sexual favours to facilitate repatriation, rape and systematic coercion of numerous women to perform sexual acts for money, which was reported to be pocketed by corrupt POLO-OWWA personnel. What made this particularly horrific was that these were distressed women who had fled exploitative and abusive workplaces. Systemic and cultural change to protect migrant women workers did not follow this appalling revelation - neither did legal justice. It failed to send the message that the violation of migrant women's rights is unacceptable. It also emboldened the message that sexual abusers of women can practice with impunity.
The recent blatant visibility of this represented by the current President’s coerced ‘kiss’ symbolizes a backlash to the challenge posed to the continuation of the current labour migration regime, as calls grow louder to overhaul it to reflect women’s migrant rights. The performance of a man coercing a migrant woman sexually in a situation where he holds power as the President (and condones violence) is abhorrent. It sends a permissive message to other men, including employers to engage in gender-based violence against Filipino migrant women. It also risks promoting and reinforcing negative sexual stereotypes about Filipino entertainers. Significantly, it raises serious concern that the patriarchal labour migration regime is ‘selling’ more than women’s labour.
Oras na para sa Transpormasyon: The response must be comprehensive - It must include strengthening the call for a rights-based labour migration regime.

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