The Philippine capital of Manila is notorious for its worsening, bumper-to-bumper traffic. But the Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) believes it has found a solution to the problem: deploying female police officers.
While assigning women to the streets might sound like a step towards gender equality, the Philippine police’s reason for deployment is beyond problematic. The police force said the women are there to de-stress drivers from the standstill, and so that drivers will be embarrassed to violate traffic rules in front of pretty women.
A news report quoted the country’s traffic chief as saying, “They’re not just like any other police officers, they’re like models. They’re really pretty. They are really head turners.”
The qualifications for the job? That they’re “girlfriend material.”
The sexism in the logic behind the policy is astounding, but unfortunately not surprising in a country like the Philippines. While the Southeast Asian nation ranks highly in the gender gap index – the highest in Asia, at 8th place globally – misogynistic attitudes towards women remain prevalent.
It has only become more noticeable and arguably accepted in recent years, highly fuelled by those in power, particularly by President Rodrigo Duterte, who has consistently demeaned women in his speech and actions. Duterte has, in his public speeches and appearances, made rape jokes, catcalled female journalists, kissed women on the lips, boasted about his past affairs, and attacked his female critics. He has admitted to sexually assaulting a maid, and said female guerrilla fighters should be shot in their vaginas. He called women bitches at a women’s empowerment event.
Despite all this, the President remains widely popular.
His demeanour has justified other such expressions of sexism. Politicians and political appointees in the Philippines flaunt their own machismo more than ever, enabled by the most powerful man in the country. Many laws remain discriminatory against women. Societal views and traditions are characterised by gender inequality, and dismissed as acceptable.
In this context, it is easier to understand how this traffic enforcement strategy was approved.
Is it truly surprising that women are judged for their looks rather than their skill set when President Duterte commonly comments on the physical appearance of the female Vice President? Is it so unexpected that the legal age of consent in the Philippines for sexual activity is 12 years old, when audiences clap and applaud when the President makes rape jokes? Is it really that shocking that female officers are seen as distractions for traffic, when the President himself catcalls women?
Perhaps the worst part of it all is that the police force said the move was part of their gender equality initiative. In many ways, this sort of sexism is even more dangerous, because people fail to see what's misogynistic about their words or actions in the first place. This lack of awareness makes the problem even harder to address.
It’s important to teach young women of their value, that beauty is not the ideal to aspire to, but when everything around them – from policies, to jokes, to public officials – tell them otherwise, then where does one even start?
Vigilance is crucial. It’s important to hold men in power accountable and to question misogynistic policies like this one. Demand for an apology. Educate men of their conditioning, so that they can learn to be allies of women. Start with friends and family.
And if you see female police officers on the road, appreciate them for the work they do, rather than the way they look.
Natashya Gutierrez is Editor-in-Chief of VICE in Asia-Pacific. Follow her on Twitter.