Speak up against gender-based violence
I’ve heard too often that I should be thankful for being a woman in the 21st century. I’ve been told to be thankful that I have an option between work, motherhood and/ or both. They say that I should be grateful that I can vote, wear what I want and date who I want. And as much as I complain, I am grateful that I have a voice. But we all need to keep in mind that gratitude doesn’t mean contentment.
Let me say that again, so that everything is loud and clear: My gratefulness doesn’t mean that I am content.
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Earlier this week, I sat down with the people behind #RespetoNaman to discuss the statistics and issues that plague gender-based violence in the Philippines. It was a conversation full of anger, disbelief and helplessness that ended with just a light tinge of hope for this David and Goliath battle.
I learned that only 3% of rape cases in the Philippines ever end in conviction. I was reminded that 12 is the age of consent in our country. And did you know that in court, it’s the victim that must prove she/he was raped instead of the rapist disproving his/her crime? Were you aware that in 1997, the rape law was amended to define ‘rape’ as a violation of human rights instead of a violation against chastity, but that not all prosecutors follow this reclassification that was made more than 20 years ago?
Alternately, there are countries in the world like Sweden who have made it a point to convict the purchasers of sex instead of the sellers of sex. Makes sense, doesn’t it? There is a group of politicians on the other side of the world that is proudly calling itself a feminist government and is changing the game by leveraging on this F word.
So tell me why—tell me how—we’re supposed to be quiet and smile and be content because we can show up to work when victims have to operate in a system that’s been predetermined to work against them? How am I supposed to believe anti-catcalling laws are in place when I experience it walking down the street of one of our “better” cities? Should I be quiet about my experiences when my male friends are negatively (yet genuinely) surprised by a woman’s daily experiences? Should I stop complaining because they tease I’m pretty as it happens when that isn’t the damn point?
The answer is that I shouldn’t keep quiet. I shouldn’t accept, nod my head, cast my eyes down and be mum; I cannot be content. You can’t and shouldn’t be either. And fuck, I do not just mean the women in the world—everyone is part of the problem and everyone can be part of the solution.
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I was furious when the participants of that talk shared that halfway houses for women of abuse refuse to be publicized in fear of having to take in more than their resources can take. I inwardly rolled my eyes when our current government was put on the spot and all we could say is that the conversation begins with us. After all, if the bigger of us cannot speak, then how can the rest of us?
But then I started to realize that the same can be said about me; I cannot throw stones. Admittedly, I am more quiet than I should be. I let things happen because I’m afraid to speak out. I have saved reputations and egos despite behavior that I wouldn’t expect and tolerate outside of my circle. So what that morning of eye-opening and jaw-dropping conversation eventually told me is this: If I’m afraid to speak of the arguably little I’ve experienced, what more for the most victimized of us victims? It’s a cycle that seems to be never-ending…but there are moments of light in it, too.
There are campaigns—and women and men behind them—that provide education and an avenue to speak out on the worst of situations. Maybe one day we’ll reach the right ears (or enough ears) to make an actual difference. If it takes more than 20 years for educated prosecutors to apply a law amendment, I don’t know how long #RespetoNaman will need to be in effect. But at least it’s there now; maybe that means my daughter’s world will take better care of her.
#RespetoNaman is a project by the Office of Vice President of Leni Robredo, the Embassy of Sweden in Manila, UN Women, SPARK!, Empower, Terre Des Hommes, Girls Advocacy Alliance and Para Sa Sining. The next leg of its exhibit, Don’t Tell Me How To Dress, will show in Ayala Center Cebu. It showcases the clothes that victims were wearing at the time they were sexually harassed or assaulted.
Art Alexandra Lara