One thing we would never expect a country’s leader to do is encourage sexual abuse, that too proudly from a podium. But this is exactly what Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has done. Duterte, who isn’t a stranger to controversies, bragged about sexually assaulting a maid in his teens. During a speech in the city of Cotabato, the 73-year-old leader recalled lifting the blanket and putting his hands inside the maid’s underpants while she slept, reports Independent. He further added that while he left after the maid woke up, he returned to her room and tried to molest her again.

SOME TAKEAWAYS-

  • Rodrigo Duterte has bragged about sexually assaulting a maid while she slept, in his teens.
  • These remarks are despicable even for a man infamous for his orthodox takes on homosexuality, abortion and women’s rights.
  • Duterte is telling boys not just in Philippines, but around the world that men are practically untouchable.

Duterte’s comments have shaken the staunchest of his supporters, earning him severe criticism from all corners of the country

It must be so shameful for a nation when the elected leader uses the podium that you gave, to brag about violating a woman. These remarks are despicable even for a man infamous for his orthodox takes on homosexuality, abortion and women’s rights. This is the man who said that his soldiers should render women rebels useless by shooting them in the vagina. His supporters have defended all his previous obnoxious remarks by labelling them as casual banter, or misinterpreted jokes.

But there is simply no way to defend a leader who openly admits to violating a woman. However, that a powerful man so coolly admitted to a sexual crime without any sense of remorse or fear of repercussion, while all we can do is watch, makes one feel so powerless. Duterte is telling boys not just in Philippines, but around the world that men are practically untouchable. That when you abuse women lower down the ladder of power and wealth, there are seldom any repercussions. You can even brag about it in front of the entire world. The sense that he is indestructible, no matter what he does, is utterly worrying.

His words — dripping with entitlement and toxic machismo — also reflect how the rich or more well-to-do treat poor working women

These women work hard to make ends meet. They clean toilets, wipe the floor and wash utensils, all for a pittance of a salary. But more humiliating than how people treat them as low-lives is how little we care about their sexual safety. Almost all of us have heard stories about the master who would casually touch his maid’s derriere or gawk at her chest, while she was on all fours, wiping the floor. How he would brush his hands “accidentally” against her chest, when passing an empty tea cup. Sometimes it is subtle, but then many a times the transgression is shamelessly bold, completely aware of the power dynamics in play.

A study conducted by Martha Farrell Foundation in Gurgaon and Faridabad in Haryana and south Delhi found that 29% women domestic workers had been sexually harassed. Nineteen per cent of them chose to ignore the incidents. There are countries where even animals have more rights than maids. Women stuck in such places have no other options than to endure unwanted sexual advances. They cannot leave even if they want to, and if they retaliate, chances are that they will pay with more than just their jobs.

Just last year, the execution of an Indonesian maid who killed her Saudi employer when he attempted to rape her, agitated many. This particular case tells us why it is so easy for a man like Duterte to talk so casually about assaulting a maid. Not many care about these women’s rights and dignity. Not many find it revolting that a teen dared to violate her twice in one night and still loves to brag about it in an era where there is so much conversation about sexual safety of women.

How does this not trivialise women’s safety? How do we not feel ashamed of repeatedly letting perpetrators get away with abusing, killing and torturing maids? The fact that Duterte gets to stand on a podium and brag about his actions, while all we can do is watch shows us the ugly state of sexual safety of women globally. All our noise to make this planet a safer place for women and raising our boys right gets cancelled out by men like Duterte. Those who tell them that it is okay to prey on poor women. Who project this image of entitled, rich brats drunk on power as cool and macho. Unless we smash that image and demand justice for the most powerless of women, our quest for safety of women will be incomplete.

Picture Credit: NDTV

Also Read: Dear Rani Mukerji, Stop Making Women Accountable For Their Safety

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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