Negros Occidental has strengthened implementation of the Safe Spaces Act with an ordinance that provides additional definitions of gender-based sexual harassment (GBSH), protective measures, and penalties.
Governor Eugenio Jose “Bong” Lacson signed on November 25 the landmark Safe Spaces Ordinance of Negros Occidental, which localizes Republic Act (RA) No. 11313, also called the “Bawal Bastos” Act.
Lacson, Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer and provincial administrator Rayfrando Diaz led provincial government employees and guests in signing a pledge to keep workplaces and communities safe from gender-based harassment.
“We are the first province in the Philippines to localize RA 11313,” 5th District Board Member Rita Gatuslao, chair of Sangguniang Panlalawigan committee chair on women, children, and family affairs, told Rappler on Saturday, November 27.
Officials here see the local ordinance as a breakthrough as it expands the scope of gender-based sexual harassment in workplaces and educational and training institutions.
Gatuslao said local women leaders and advocates in the province worked for 11 months to craft the ordinance, which promotes a violence-free community and a province that’s a safe space. The Provincial Council for Women, led by lawyer Andrea Si, helped with valuable inputs, she added.
“Collaborating with dedicated women across the province gave me much inspiration to see through the various lenses of appreciation on the state of women and gender issues,” the lawmaker said.
The ordinance provides additional definitions of gender-based sexual harassment, protective measures, and penalties.
It expands the types of public places defined, which now include education and training institutions, buildings, recreational spaces, public utility vehicles, rural areas, and workplaces.
“Under the Sexual Harassment Law and the Safe Spaces Act, gender-based sexual harassment in these places happen only between a perpetrator and a victim who are part of the workplace or school,” Si pointed out.
“How about salespersons, agents, collectors, delivery persons, contractual workers, parents, siblings, yayas who can also be victims or perpetrators of sexual harassment in these situations? The ordinance covers these additional cases and that should lead workplaces and educational institutions to include such violations in their Code of Conduct.”
Cases of abuse in women and children have increased during the pandemic, Gatuslao said. Like in any crime, the economic situation was seen as the primary cause of these, and the usual perpetrators are kin, such as father and brother, and friends of family, like brother’s friend and mother’s boyfriend.
Women leaders said a culture that minimizes offenses against women in public spaces builds a concept of impunity that worsens violence in domestic situations.
Gatuslao said that the ordinance is just a first step, adding that the crucial step of this campaign is educating the public.
The governor also acknowledged that consciousness does not change overnight.
“As we seek to foster consciousness against this violation of the fundamental right of women to live a life free from violence, bear in mind that awareness-raising is a process. And that we need to remain patient, and at the same time, relentless in our cause for us to succeed,” Lacson said during the signing ceremony.
Si said sexual harassment, as penalized under the Safe Spaces Act and the newly passed Safe Spaces Ordinance, “are taken for granted the same way domestic violence was taken for granted 30 years ago.”
The lawyer said the main goal of the law and the ordinance is prevention rather than the punishment of offenders.
“People have to begin seeing the acts penalized as wrong, not actions or words to be condoned. Domestic violence was similarly viewed 30 years ago but because of women’s advocacy, the passage of RA 9262, and government action, no one will defend a man’s right to beat up his wife nowadays,” she pointed out.
The Safe Spaces Act was passed in the latter half of 2019 but because the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed movement for almost two years, “the law hasn’t had much of a chance yet,” Si added.
“The law provides for information dissemination, posters about GBSH in public places, for instance. Have you seen any?,” she told Rappler. “The Philippine Commission on Women has produced print ready posters, stickers, and other information, education and communication aids. The provincial government and the local governments in the province should now make these widely available.” – Rappler.com