This year’s OBR Philippine campaign is a virtual indictment of President Aquino, whose regime was marked by increased poverty, absence of state accountability, and an escalation of violence against women.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — Women around the world continue to suffer from great injustice of flawed policies implemented by the governments. Many women became victims of abuse as they are deprived of job with decent salary, their lands were being grabbed by corporations that resulted to dire poverty, and they are forced to live the country to seek employment abroad.
On the fourth year of the “One Billion Rising,” (OBR) women’s rights activists around the world escalate their calls, with this year’s theme “OBR: Rise to Revolution.”
The system must change, said playwright and women’s rights activist Eve Ensler who will join the OBR here in the Philippines on Feb. 14. She will also visit communities in Manila and the Haran House of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City where hundreds of Lumad evacuees have sought refuge.
“We see how economic deprivation and inequality is connected to violence against women (VAW). Economic deprivation leads to getting raped, getting sold, getting trafficked. When you don’t give jobs to the women of your own country they are forced to go to other countries where they lose their families, they lose connection with their loved ones, they are exploited and abused by other people,” she said in a press conference on Monday, Feb. 8.
“Why wouldn’t the government want to protect women workers and women from being exploited by other countries? That is so insane when you start thinking about the government that supposed to represent the people,” she added.
The OBR is a global campaign to end violence against women and children through dancing.
“This year’s campaign will escalate the collective actions of activists worldwide, and amplify their call for systematic changes towards ending violence against women and children once and for all,” said OBR global director, Monique Wilson.
More women victims of violence under Aquino
Women leaders said this year’s OBR Philippine campaign is a virtual indictment of President Aquino, whose regime was marked by increased poverty, absence of state accountability, which has led to an escalation of violence against women.
“On Aquino’s almost six years in power, more and more women have become vulnerable to various forms of violence and abuse, because of poverty and the still unaddressed culture of impunity. The ‘risings’ thus continue to spread in various Philippine cities to highlight their local issues of VAW,” said Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela Philippines, the lead convenor of the OBR Philippine campaign.
Salvador said in Tacloban for one, after typhoon Yolanda devastated Eastern Visayas, extreme poverty coupled with Aquino government’s neglect of the issue of violence for victims led to an increase in prostitution.
“Foreign aid workers and foreign troops who flocked to Tacloban for the relief and rehabilitation operations served as clientele to the booming flesh trade,” Salvador said.
In Aklan, Salvador added, about 40 percent of women from coastal villages has turned to prostitution and flocked to nearby Boracay island as a result of a slump in the fish trade following a red tide infestation.
Salvador added that in Roxas City, home province of Liberal Party presidential bet Mar Roxas, the phenomenon of ‘buy one, take one’ has proliferated where for P50 ($1) a ‘client’ could have two prostituted women. “Is this the daang matuwid (righteous path) that he vows to continue?” she asked.
Ensler will be visiting the said areas and will stage “risings” with the Gabriela. Ensler will also be a special guest in a “rising” in Cebu where cybersex, victimizing girls, remains unabated.
“Every year, we monitor news reports of raids on cybersex dens involving foreign pedophiles as clientele. But still Cebu remains to be one of the top cities hosting cybersex dens. Children as young as two years old are among the victims of this vile trade,” Salvador said.
Salvador said the violence against women and children increased drastically during Aquino’s term. Citing data by the Center for Women’s Resources, Salvador said that from 2010 to 2014, reports of rape increased by 92 percent, while domestic violence or violation of the Anti-VAWC Act increased by 219 percent.
“What is worse is that many cases also involved persons of authority and many of them remain unpunished or merely given a slap on the hand,” said Salvador.
Women in other sectors will ‘rise’
Women from different sectors expressed solidarity in the OBR campaign, saying it has been an effective tool in bringing the issues violence against women and children in the mainstream.
Nenita Gonzaga of Kilusang Mayo Uno-Women department said at first she cannot fathom why they have to dance.
“But I understood that it is a sign of protest and this protest is for the women’s right to a permanent job and a decent salary, I danced and rise with them. And now, we are bringing risings in different areas like in the Kentex factory,” said Gonzaga. Kentex is the factory of rubber slippers where more than 70 workers died in a fire in 2015.
Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Partylist chairperson, said most of the overseas Filipino workers are women. She said since the administration of then President Joseph Estrada, the number of women OFWs is lower than 50 percent (of total number of OFWs leaving the country). Forty percent of them are working as domestic helpers or in other service sectors.
“Many of our OFWs are already victims of economic violence since they are forced to leave the country because there are no jobs here. And what awaits them there abroad, especially women who are hired as domestic helpers? They are maltreated, deprived of their salary; they are raped and worse are killed,” said Regalado.
Women farmers who already suffer from dire poverty because of land grabbing are also not spared from sexual abuse, said Zen Mariano, chairperson of the National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines (Amihan). She said they received reports of women who are forced to have sex as payment to loans.
Soriano said women farmers are the ones who ask for loans for farm production from landlords. They are also the ones who risk getting jailed because of estafa or be sexually abused as their families reneged on the loan payment because of failed harvests, said Soriano. She added that most victims are afraid to come forward.
“That is why we are supporting this campaign so women farmers would have the courage to stand against abuse,” Soriano said.
Ensler was horrified to hear the testimonies from women of different sectors. “It is so clear that revolution means system change. It has to be system change…when the government is failing to protect the people, it’s time to change the government,” she said.
On Feb. 14, at 8:00 am, thousands of women in Manila and other parts of the Philippines and across the globe will dance and rise.
“We’ve danced, we’ve demanded justice, and we’ve demanded changes. This year we are radicalizing our actions – enlarging, deepening and expanding the ‘revolution.’ Let’s continue to shift consciousness and be braver, bolder more creative and determined in our actions. Communities will focus on the most marginalized women and girls to bring about true and long-lasting change,” said Wilson.