The Police Regional Office (PRO) in Albay was scrutinized by netizens when it posted news of its Mar. 1 “stiletto run” event, where police officers raced each other while wearing high heels, wigs, and women’s shorts. This was supposed to celebrate Women’s Month this March and demonstrates the agency’s attempt to put themselves literally in women’s shoes. Apparently, this wasn’t even the first time such an event was held, as the PRO in Leyte organized a similar race last year and received the same backlash. We can’t even give them the benefit of ignorance at this point as they didn’t consider last year’s criticism that the event was misguided at best and misogynistic at worst.

As we celebrate Women’s Month year after year, the police’s missteps indicate that we may be drifting away from its original intention. National Women’s Month was first proclaimed in 1988 by our first female president, President Cory Aquino, as a way of emphasizing the role of Filipino women toward our national independence as well as their contribution to the social, cultural, economic, and political development in Filipino history. Designating the month of March for women originated from Mar. 8 as International Women’s Day, which recognizes the organizing efforts of women toward their human and civil rights. In the present day, we celebrate Women’s Month by recognizing women’s achievements as well as addressing ongoing issues related to women empowerment and gender equality.

With this history in mind, what has stilettos got to do with it? Of all the activities that the Philippine National Police could have planned to address women’s issues and advocate for their rights and well-being, it had chosen to include a tradition of male-presenting police officers cross-dressing as women. They should not be surprised that it was met by much criticism of trivializing women’s struggles by reducing it to the challenge of wearing high heels. That the run was seemingly designed as entertainment takes away from the seriousness of the aim of Women’s Month to highlight that women in 2024 continue to feel physically unsafe and unprotected.

In this day and age, Filipino women still do not have access to divorce as an avenue to leave abusive and violent marriages. The expensive annulment process remains closed to low-income women. Filipino girls continue to be subjected to exploitation, with the country ranking first in cybersex crimes against children and ranking fourth when it comes to highest number of prostituted children.

In the workplace, Filipino women experience a low labor force participation at 45.96 percent in 2022. A study that same year by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies shows that women earn 18.4 percent less than men when it comes to digital jobs. In government, only seven out of 24 senators are women. In congress, women comprise less than 30 percent. We are proud of having had two female presidents, with us being the first Asian country to have one though both times required a revolution for this to happen.

Celebration of Women’s Month can go toward addressing these challenges and persistent inequalities. The PNP could put focus on their Women and Children Protection Center, advocating to increase its funding and personnel so that it can better handle the deluge of trafficking and abuse cases. They can also devote their resources to gender sensitivity trainings so that such misses like the stiletto run can be avoided. More importantly, these trainings can help prevent harassment in their workplace, where only less than 20 percent of police officers are female, creating a power imbalance when it comes to gender.

At the barangay level, gender and development (GAD) programs should be closely monitored and evaluated. Despite 5 percent of the budget mandated for GAD programs, we notice that barangays are left unguided as to how to utilize it properly. What ends up happening are piece-meal activities that do not contribute to women empowerment and gender sensitivity. Skills training in handling domestic disputes, especially when abuse or violence is involved, are crucial in furthering protections for women. For example, I have heard reports that women are often cajoled to “work it out” with their husbands despite recurring violence in the home. Learning to handle such disputes in a more professional manner will enable both barangays and police to prioritize safety even as we make space for repair in family relations.

Celebrating women should go beyond trying on their stilettos. Listening to their experiences and making space for their voices to be heard and their needs to be addressed can go much further.

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