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MANILA, Philippines – Women.
The world celebrates “16 days of activism against gender violence” from November 25 to December 10 – marking two significant dates: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (VAW) and Human Rights Day.
The Philippines added two extra days to include December 12, the anti-trafficking day.
During these 18 days, Filipinos are encouraged to join discussions over different issues concerning not only women and children.
In 2014, the Philippines ranked 9th highest in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum. This is the highest in Asia, with Singapore at second place, but only 59th overall.
The Philippines has consistently ranked among the top 10 for the past 8 years, faring well in terms of equality in employment, education, politics, and health.
Does this mean that gender equality persists in the country? Yes, but not fully. A lot of work is yet to be done, advocates say.
Women legislators from the House of Representatives came together on Tuesday, November 25, to call on fellow lawmakers to be more “gender responsive” by creating or supporting laws uplifting women’s rights, or by scrutinizing and amending discriminatory provisions of existing policies.
The huddle, dubbed as “Moving Forward with Women’s Rights” and led by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), highlighted the role of legislators – women and men alike – in pushing for equality and empowerment.
Oddly, no men showed up.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, however, sent a message assuring that the 16th Congress will be supportive of the women’s agenda.
The fate of his promise, however, relies not only on the legislators but also on the public.
“There are around 32,000 or 75% of all barangays with VAW desks,” said Emmeline Verzosa, PCW Executive Director. “But whether they’re functional is another matter. We need to provide more training.”
All barangays in Regions IV-A and VII have VAW desks, while the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) had the lowest count, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) reported.
VAW desks must address cases of gender-based violence and assist victims in the process. It should be funded by the local government’s gender and development (GAD) budget, as mandated by law.
Over 26,000 VAWC cases among barangays were reported as of December 2013, according to DILG. In 2012, the Women and Children Protection Center of the Philippine National Police reported 9,693 VAW cases.
Many cases, however, still go unreported.
Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-VAWC Act was only implemented a decade ago. It penalizes those who abuse women – either married, dating, living together, or having sexual relations – and children, whether legitimate or not.
Women in same-sex relationships are also covered.
Such cases not only involve physical violence, but also sexual, psychological, and economic abuse.
The law considers VAWC a “public crime,” hence complaints may be made by others aside from the abused, as long they have “personal knowledge” of the crime.
Citizens are encouraged to speak up for those who are silenced.
Battle for the woman’s body
PCW cited that 14.4% of women experience abuse in the hands of their own husbands. Four out 100 women experience abuse while pregnant.
“The battle for advancing women’s rights is still a battle for the woman’s body,” said Maria Fabros of PCW. “Who owns the rights to a woman’s body?”
The woman, of course. Unfortunately, many Filipinos still believe otherwise.
For some, it’s the husband. Earlier this year, a man from Cagayan de Oro was sentenced to life imprisonment for raping his wife. The Supreme Court affirmed its conviction in 2002, stressing that sex, even within marriage, “if not consensual, is rape” as stated in the Anti-Rape law of 1997.
The martial rape case was filed way back in 1999.
Before such laws were made, wives cannot accuse their husbands of rape. “Battery fell under physical injuries of the Penal Code. Now it’s marked as a special crime,” added Rina Jimenez-David, a woman’s right advocate.
Sexual harassment remained an unknown concept until the passage of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act (RA 7877) in 1995, advocates said.
For others, a woman’s body belongs to god, citing biblical passages as arguments against the Reproductive Health law, which took more than a decade to pass; or other issues like abortion and homosexuality.
Interestingly, god is also viewed as male.
Man oh man
“You don’t have to be a woman to be a gender-responsive legislator,” said Verzosa.
She calls on male legislators to also incorporate a “gender perspective” in all laws or programs, even in those not directly related to women’s issues.
This strategy is called “gender mainstreaming,” as advocated by the PCW. “It is critical in legislation because laws can either perpetuate or end discrimination,” Verzosa added.
She cited policies in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, in which councils are required to have women members. “There are many gender issues during disasters,” she said.
Using gender-fair language among legislators is a good start, the PCW suggested.
Verzosa also observed that though there are now several women police officers, the majority of senior investigators are men. She suggested training more women intensively, since most victims feel more comfortable talking to fellow women.
“We are in a male-dominated parliament,” Senator Pia Cayetano said in a video message presented at the forum. “We have to learn for us to speak their language, or more importantly, they have to understand our language.”
The senator clarified that men are not the only ones guilty of subscribing to gender stereotypes, but also women.
She advises legislators to first do their research before supporting or arguing against laws, stressing the importance of consultation in the legislative process. “What makes a great bill is if it includes the ideas of others. It gives you new perspectives.”
Cayetano advised lawmakers to engage more with the public, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and the media.
Advocates agree that although a lot of problems remain unresolved, the Philippines deserves credit for also having several laws aiming to protect women’s rights.
“The challenge now, aside from making new ones, is to do an oversight of the existing ones,” said Remedios Rikken, staunch feminist and PCW chairperson. – Rappler.com
Support the 18-day campaign to end violence against women. How can more people help? Tell us your ideas and stories. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.