by Elizabeth Ruth Deyro
Photos by the Commission on Human Rights
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) held its first Summit Against Gender-based Violence on November 25, in time for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
The Summit kicked off CHR’s observation of the 18 Days of Activism, a nationwide campaign to end violence against women that also covers the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on November 29, Human Rights Day on December 10, and International Day Against Trafficking on December 12.
Reports show that criminal acts against women and girls remain pervasive worldwide, both within households and in public institutions.
According to the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey, one out of four married women in the Philippines has experienced abuse from their former or current partners. Only a slim one-third of these women sought help, reaching out to their families (65%) and friends (18%) rather than authorities such as the CHR.
CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit also explained that women and girls also account for 71% of all human trafficking victims worldwide, with three out of four of these women and girls having been or being sexually exploited.
Gomez-Dumpit noted how the statistics do not align well with the Philippines’ reputation as one of the “most gender-equal countries in Asia,” with the country even placing 8th in the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report.
Key legislation protecting women have also been in place for more than a decade, with the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) Act of 2004 and the Magna Carta of Women from 2009.
CHR highlighted “voices of the most vulnerable and marginalized” for its first-ever Summit Against Gender-based Violence, inviting community women from all over the country to participate in the discussion and speak about their current conditions.
Women’s rights as State responsibility
Myrna Dominguez of the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau noted that the Magna Carta of Women already emphasizes the State’s responsibility to end violence against women, but a dire lack of strong implementation paralyzes the laws that should protect women, regardless of their social class.
Dominguez also opined that there is a “very mechanical understanding of the law,” given that even some VAWC officers do not fully comprehend their position’s role and functions.
Because of this limited or insufficient understanding of women’s rights, corporations easily “get away with their responsibilities” to women employees, such as lack of coverage for gynecological sickness of women.
Dominguez noted that non-government organizations and civil society groups are at the forefront of educating the public about women’s rights, which the government fails to provide. “Laws are useless if not understood by people,” she added.
“There is [an] imbalance of power in society,” said Meth Jimenez of women’s organization Sarilaya.
“Until we have not addressed the structural problems and until our government does not side with women, these laws will not work,” she added.
Jimenez emphasized women’s issues such as violence against women and reproductive health as repercussions of poverty, which she deems as a much greater form of violence against women and girls.
“Gender-based violence is both a gender and [a] class issue,” said Mina Tenorio of Likhaan Center for Women’s Health, Inc.
Following the earlier speakers’ assertion that implementation of laws remain lacking, Tenorio also acknowledged that women’s awareness of their rights has “notably increased” through community organizing, with more women availing health and social services.
The challenges, however, include the prevalent culture of misogyny and rape in the country. Tenorio mentioned the propensity of some government leaders for rape jokes as a key problem in furthering women’s rights.
Additionally, women are deprived of free access to reproductive health services such as emergency contraceptives and cheap social hygiene clinics. According to Tenorio, denial of health services is a form of violence against women, but the evident lack of right to self-determination such as in the case of criminalization of abortion in the country, means that women are subjected to violence solely for their decisions.
“Reproductive health cannot be separated from violence against women,” said Tenorio.
Greater issues for women in the margins
Aside from reproductive health and domestic violence, women from marginalized communities suffer from grave threats to their livelihoods and lives on a daily basis.
Amparo Miciano of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan raised concern on how to address care work for rural women. Women farmers are subjected to unpaid work, on top of facing the consequences of the controversial Rice Tariffication Law.
Meanwhile, Abby Dupane of LILAK, or Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights, recognized the growing awareness among indigenous peoples about women’s rights. According to Dupane, indigenous women now better recognize the human rights violations that they experience, leading to a stronger assertion of their rights.
Dupane identified stigma among IP families and communities themselves, lack of funding and access to technology, limited representation of indigenous women, and the increasing attacks against human rights defenders as challenges for indigenous women.
Research discussions of previous and gender-based violence mappings and updates on forthcoming projects were also shared in the Summit.
Noreen H. Sapalo’s case study relates gender-based violence to Filipino urban poor relocatees’ varying notions of home and disasters. The study focuses of community members and leaders of San Isidro Kasiglahan Kapatiran at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan, at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3). Women-led approaches to disaster mitigation such as marshal duty, organized evacuation, and community alerts were present within the community. Points raised in the study include how the home carries gendered politics. Men were said to generally equate home with financial responsibility, while women view it as a “place for work.”
“Gendered notions of home and roles in the home greatly affect a mother’s reception and reaction to violence or abuse,” shared Sapalo, who also concluded that home, in the case of her study, becomes a site of oppression and resistance.
Louyzza Maria Victoria Vasquez shared her documentation of Filipina women living with HIV, titled Layag. From first learning about the condition, to the daily struggles and living with the stigma, the study ultimately highlighted the forms of violence that women with HIV endure. This includes their male partners’ non-disclosure of high risk sexual activity, which caused them to acquire HIV; stigmatisation even by family members and health officers; and sexual abuse.
Gantala Press also gave updates on their collaborative project with CHR featuring a case book of gender-based violence stories handled by the commission.
“Women are fighters and won’t just accept these violations,” noted Faye Cura, editor and co-founder of Gantala Press.