By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Speak up and fight to stop violence against women and children.
This was the objective of the campaign forum organized by third year Mass Communication students of St. Scholastica’s College, Manila on Dec. 6.
Dubbed “Kulasas unite: We fight to end VAW,” the forum aimed to empower youths to make a stand and rise up against violence against women (VAW). The forum was organized by students of the Principles of Development Communication class under professor and former Bulatlat reporter, Anne Ednalyn Dela Cruz.
Dela Cruz urged her students and those who came to listen to the forum to act against abuses on women, especially those from the marginalized sectors. “We do not keep this just as a note, we should bring and share it wherever it is needed,” she said.
Speakers in the forum were: Miriam Grafil of the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) and Gabriela Women’s Partylist (GWP) Rep. Emmi De Jesus. Actress and model Kat Alano, a VAW survivor, also spoke about her experience and why women should fight back. Sherwin Yao and Carl Fontiveros of Juan against Bullying (JAB) demonstrated basic moves for self-defense.
Violence against women cuts across all classes
All women, regardless of their economic status, may become victims of experience VAW. But Grafil pointed out that women from the marginalized sectors are the most vulnerable, and they experience worse abuse. Even as they suffer from dire poverty, women victims experience a wide range of violence, from being raped to being discriminated in the workplace.
Grafil explained that discrimination in the workplace is a form of VAW, with most victims experiencing rejection starting from the job application. Many women are barred from getting jobs, as companies disqualify applicants who are married, pregnant or beyond a certain age limit.
Poor women need to work for a living, and amid the rising unemployment, many are pushed to prostitution. Grafil said women activists disagree that there is a “prostitution industry” or “sex workers” in the Philippines, because prostitution is only a result of lack of available jobs.
Women continue to be abused especially in a patriarchal society like the Philippines where women are commodified, treated as property or perceived as inferior. She said the statistics are glaring. Based on 2014 data, there is one woman raped every 53 minutes, and seven out of 10 victims are children. Meanwhile, there is one case of domestic violence in every 15 minutes.
Grafil said all forms of VAW persist and are intensifying especially when President Duterte himself encourages these acts in his speeches.
De Jesus, meanwhile, said that while there are laws that protect women and children, there are still weaknesses and loopholes in these laws, and GWP is working on amendments.
The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 she said, is only confined to areas of work, education and training. Perpetrators are only those who are in higher positions like a supervisor, coach or professor. GWP filed to amend the law in 2013, and proposed that “sexual harassment may be committed within or outside the place of employment when the victim and the perpetrator are connected to or belonging in the same place of employment, training or education.”
They are also pushing for amendments to the Anti-Rape Law, such as the redefinition of rape to include non-penile penetration.
De Jesus said there are laws that could protect women, especially when the law is being implemented properly. The only hurdle is that there are still many women who are afraid to pursue cases against perpetrators. She said among the many reasons that hold women back are: the public’s tendency to blame the victim, the stigma on victims of abuse, and the country’s slow justice system.
“That is why we in Gabriela Women’s Party, try to come up with new laws and amendments to further protect women,” she said.
Coming out as VAW survivor
Alano came out as a rape victim in 2014. The incident happened back in 2005 when she was 19 years old. The perpetrator, she said, is a public figure who remains popular up to now. She said that it was difficult to come out as she expected victim blaming. She said when she decided to come out and tell her story, people bashed her online and some said she only wanted to get famous.
“Nobody wants to be raped no matter how drunk you are,” she said because the incident happened after she had drinks with friends. She knew she was within her alcohol limits, yet she felt so disoriented. She did not realize that she was drugged.
“In the car, I knew something bad would happen, but I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t run. My mind was saying ‘Get out of here!’ but my body couldn’t move,” she said. She said she kept blacking out, and felt helpless even if she had self-defense skills.
“There’s no time to gather your thoughts and fight back. You’re helpless when you are drugged,” she said.
She felt dirty afterwards and scared because her family was not in the Philippines. She also blamed herself for letting it happen to her. But then, she said, she never asked to be raped.
Speaking about her ordeal was like going through it again. But women victims of abuse have to speak up, she said. “I am speaking here now because you need to know and need to be prepared,” she said.
“Rape is about power. Sex is not the issue here… it’s a violation of your human rights,” she said.
She said women should take courage to fight back, not only for all the women, but also the men, because there are rape victims among them too. “If we are scared, they are scared even more. We can fight this together with men,” she said.
More than anything else, De Jesus said, women want an elimination and eradication of violence against women and children (VAWC), although it will entail time to be achieved. In the meantime, she said, people should find ways so that VAWC is prevented, and to seek justice for the victims. She said education and information is crucial to change how women are being viewed and treated in the society.
“We are not against men, we unite with men to change the situation. We need to educate. We need to act and mobilize,” she said.
Scholastican and Gabriela Youth member Jilian Bandelaria, meanwhile, urged fellow students to be active in liberating women.
“The youth has the power to influence and become agents of change. Even if we are young, we are still powerful. We can empower and mobilize our fellow youth to fight VAW.”