AfterHaiyan: Battling gender-based violence

Mark Nonkes

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AfterHaiyan: Battling gender-based violence
Disaster-affected communities need to understand their rights against gender-based abuse

ORMOC, Philippines – Word spread like wildfire.

Only a few were supposed to be there, the event organizer confided, there wasn’t enough space for a large group.

But hours before the session began, women started arriving. They strolled into the beat-up complex carrying infants and umbrellas. The threat of rain and the duties of motherhood were not going to keep them away.

“We’re very interested in this topic – women and violence,” said Annafe, a 35-year-old mother of five who was waiting for proceedings to begin.

By 2pm, nearly 200 women huddled beneath a tarpaulin that was acting as a makeshift roof after Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc on this community hall.

Rain started pounding. A woman spoke into a mega phone.

“I’m here today to talk about sexual, physical, and emotional abuse,” she told the crowd of women, many of whom were breastfeeding.

She continued, “I want you to know what to do and where you can get help if you or someone you care about find themselves in this situation.” 


As she spoke about the cycle of violence, Jocelyn nodded.

She knew this all too well.

She recalled how she first experienced abuse from her husband after he went home drunk one night. 

“I was working in a factory at that time and the next day when I went to work, I wore sunglasses. When I took them off, my workmates were so surprised (with my bruise),” she narrated.

“They advised me to settle things with the village leaders,” she recalled.

Despite the lack of reason behind the attack, Jocelyn’s mother-in-law blamed her for what happened. She also refused to seek help.

“I didn’t want a broken family; I didn’t want trouble,” she said.

The first time was the beginning of a nightmare at home. Her husband’s rage started to spiral down because of his drug addiction and alcoholism. 

“When my husband was drunk, he’d push my eldest son punch him. Up until now that child is still traumatized,” according to her.

Jocelyn sold rice cakes to support her unemployed husband. Her income, together with money from her sister, sustained her family’s everyday life. 

Things got worse as she found out that he was cheating on him, thanks to tips given by her neighbors.

“I found him with another woman so we started fighting. That night he beat me with a pipe and hit me in both of my knees,” Jocelyn said.

“I was screaming for help. But the neighbors didn’t come to help because they believed it was a family matter,” she added.

New beginning

She finally had enough and filed a restraining order against her abusive husband. Together with her children, she went into hiding with the help of her sister.

Eventually, Jocelyn and her husband’s marriage ended. In her new home, where she once again reunited with her two children, she’s been able to start over.

“If I didn’t leave, I think I might have died,” she said.

Since then, Jocelyn has found new love, remarried, and had 3 more children.

Fight for rights

As she listened to the speaker of the event facilitated by the World Vision, she underlined the value of being knowledgeable of their rights.

“Women should take a stand against violence. Children should be taken away from abusers so they can grow up peacefully,” she stressed.

For women like Mary Grace Talibao, a mother of 4, the information about what to do in this type of situations is important.

“I will share this information with everyone. They should know what do to and do what’s right,” she said.

The event was one of the many sessions that teach pregnant women and women with children under the age of 5 how to cope with emergencies and disasters.

During the last 3 months, a series of other topics – mother and child nutrition, disease prevention, hygiene, disaster preparedness and basic first aid – have been tackled.

“I have learned a lot about taking care of my children,” Mary Grace said.

World Vision’s Women and Young Children Spaces have been set-up in 14 villages in the aftermath of Yolanda and have reached 1,707 women in three regions.

As the event concluded, Annafe, Jocelyn and Mary Grace – along with 170 other women – walked away from the event armed with new knowledge.

“We know more about our rights as mothers and women now,” Annafe said. – 

Mark Nonkes is the Regional Communication Officer of World Vision in Asia. 

Abused girl photo from Shutterstock.

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