(Message of the Philippine Commission on Women on the 2021 18-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women)
In a community where respect thrives, we can ensure and secure safe spaces for all.
As the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) leads the 2021 18-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women (VAW), we zero in on a pervasive type of violence: gender-based sexual harassment (GBSH).
GBSH comes in various forms: an intrusive gaze, a catcall, a remark, an online comment or message, which may be downplayed by some as “maliit na bagay” or even pass it up as a “compliment”. But for victims, these come across as offensive, threatening, and intimidating. Sometimes, harassment progresses from verbal to physical such as flashing, groping, stalking, or even to the worst types of sexual violence. These acts can affect the victim physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, from serious headaches and heart burns to triggered anxiety, depression, fear, anger, and trauma.
Despite these harmful effects, sexual harassment still exists, driven by the flawed sense of entitlement over women and girls, macho culture, and disrespect to other genders. A 2016 Social Weather Stations survey shows that three in five women have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic did not cushion the blow, but in fact, exacerbated the prevalence of sexual harassment, especially in the digital realm. Plan International’s survey, “Free to be online? Girls’ and young women’s experiences of online harassment”, reports that sixty-eight percent (68%) of girls and young women in the Philippines have experienced online harassment on social media.
In this year’s campaign, the PCW underscores that these acts of sexual harassment have no place in the VAW-free community that we envision and we have long advocated for. We highlight that these acts are unacceptable and are already penalized under the Safe Spaces Act (Republic Act 11313). Enacted on April 17, 2019, the law took effect on August 3 of the same year. It expanded the definition of sexual harassment in the Philippine law to cover acts of GBSH whether verbal, nonverbal, or physical. The coverage of the law is not only limited to schools and workplaces since it also covers public spaces such as public transportation, commercial establishments, and even online. Authority, influence, or moral ascendancy by the perpetrators over their victims is likewise not required for the sexual harassment to be classified as a crime under RA 11313. This means that our law now recognizes and penalizes as criminal acts GBSH among peers, by a subordinate to a superior, or by mere strangers.
The PCW, as one of the agencies tasked to monitor the implementation of the law and lead the national awareness campaign on the same, calls for a whole-of-society approach in ensuring safe spaces for everyone. We encourage the agencies with mandates under the law to be true and committed to their responsibilities therein, issuing the appropriate guidelines, strengthening mechanisms in place to prevent and address sexual harassment, enforcing sanctions, training staffers or duty bearers, conducting necessary inspections, and making appropriate services available and accessible. We count on local government units to localize the law and custom-fit the same in the realities on the ground, guided by the Joint Memorandum Circular on the
Localization of the Safe Spaces Act, and ensure that it is carried out with fervor.
We appeal to employers and heads of schools and training institutions to set up and/or embolden their Committee on Decorum and Investigation so victims of GBSH, regardless of their status, will have faith in the grievance process. We look forward to inclusive, age-appropriate, and culturally-sensitive educational modules and consultations on the law. We trust that private institutions will unite with us in this advocacy by putting in place procedures and protocols in receiving GBSH complaints and being responsive to reports. The PCW relies on everyone to make sure that we give life to the letters of the law, so every Juana and Juan will feel safe wherever they may be.
For the public, we must all take part in protecting spaces from gender-based sexual harassment. While we strive for the proper implementation of the law, may it bring about a change of mindset, gaining perspective that catcalling is not okay, that sexual jokes may be unwelcome, sending lewd messages is wrong, and making sexual advances on a workmate, boss, student, or teacher is already penalized.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, may we ensure that our spaces are not only safe from the virus, but also from all forms of human rights violations like VAW and GBSH. As quarantine restrictions ease up and we gradually reclaim our spots in public spaces, let us all pursue a VAW-free community where all people are comfortable to walk on the streets, where they are treated with utmost respect in cyberspace, and where our work, learning, and leisure environments do not tolerate any form of violence or sexual harassment.
In this community, respect defeats discrimination, gender-based stereotypes, and violence. In this community, we all take part and benefit from safe spaces. In this community, respect, human dignity, and inclusiveness take center stage, positive masculinity reigns, and sexism and misogyny have no place.
Maging kabahagi tayo sa pagbuo ng komunidad na lahat ay ligtas at walang harassed. Dahil ikaw, ako, at ang Pilipino ay marespeto kaya sa Safe Spaces, Kasali Tayo!