Violence Against Women (VAW) in its different forms are gender-based abuses that target women in particular because of how they are viewed in society. It is one of the most palpable manifestations of women’s unequal status in relation to men in our society. Although VAW is usually perpetrated by males, it must be clear that VAW happens not because of the ridiculous belief that men are naturally violent and aggressive. The problem has its origin in our history, when the subjugation of women emerged in our society. It is systemic and deeply entrenched in the socio-cultural and political systems where both men and women accept the inequalities as realities of life.
Status of women in Pre-colonial Philippine
Pre-colonial Philippine records point to the fact that women enjoyed a high status in society prior to colonization except in areas in Mindanao where feudal-patriarchal values are already much ingrained. But in a major part of the Philippine archipelago, women played important roles that put them in a high social position. There were women priestesses (Manjajawaks, Babaylans and Catalonans) who held important rituals in communities as well as occupy political positions where they were warriors or village heads. Division of labour was based upon sex and age, but everyone played complementary and reciprocal roles which were spontaneous and natural. Each one performed tasks that complete the whole social cycle crucial for the survival of the communities. Sexual division of labor did not yet mean oppression of one by the other. Housework and agricultural production done collectively by women was as much valued as the hunting performed by males. Care for children was a collective responsibility. In traditional Ifugao society til recent past, community-sanctions against VAW were in place and these were community and not private affairs.
Spanish colonialist degraded women’s status
The feudal-patriarchal culture has been largely introduced by the Spanish colonialists in what has come to be established later as the Philippine nation. During this period, the ideal Filipina was Maria Clara – the meek, subservient, docile, weak, passive, defenseless, and vulnerable woman portrayed in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere who doesn’t have a mind of her own and relies on men for protection and decisions. The Spaniards institutionalized the oppression of women through laws and religious teachings. Women cannot own properties nor attend school. Their roles were relegated into the sidelights to the home, serving her husband and taking care of his children that were not as valued anymore. Even as they continued to work in the fields as peasants, their role in production became invisible and unrecognized because the colonizers and landlords only accepted the work performed by the head of the households who were males. Spanish Friars demonized the Babaylans as the “monstrous feminine.” (evil enchantresses endowed with black magic powers). Babaylan women were slaughtered, their bodies mutilated and fed to the crocodiles.
American colonialist brought the commodification of women
When the Americans came to colonize the Philippines in the 1900’s, they introduced the public school education system. However, they instituted the bourgeois-decadent culture where the “liberated” woman became the ideal. The Filipina began aspiring to become the white American woman whose reason for being was to become beautiful and appealing to men. They were portrayed as such for them to be saleable and profitable in the market. American companies started to promote commercial products in the Philippines, where women were used in advertisements portrayed as sex objects, who were beautiful even without brains just like in beauty pageants, and where their bodies became commodities with a price – the more titillating, the better for the saleability of the product. Then came the US military bases in Olongapo and Clark, pursuant to the 1947 Military Bases Agreement. Women around the areas where the American bases operated were peddled like meat. Prostitution then became widespread where women were used for the entertainment, satisfaction and as stress-relievers of the American servicemen.
Creation of the double-face image of the Filipina
This historical process resulted in the creation of the image of the double faced Filipina — on one side, the meek, weak and subservient woman personified by Maria Clara and on the other side the prostitute and temptress embodied by Magdalena. On one hand, is the women sheltered inside the home whose role is to serve the husband and bring about children who would later become his heirs and on the other hand the “liberated” woman illustrated as a sex symbol whose body can be used to sell products or bought with a hefty price more so if she can stimulate and excite the imagination of the male onlookers. These portrayals of women have been inculcated in the minds of every Filipino, deeply entrenched and passed on through several generations.
Perpetuation of unequal status through social institutions
The different social institutions such as the family, church, mass media, schools, laws and state machineries became the means for these to be accepted as norms. In mainstream society, even when children are yet unborn, they are already assigned gender roles. Parents select clothes which they think are appropriate for their kids’ gender. Pink is for girls, signifying femininity and blue for boys to indicate masculinity. When children are born and raised, they are introduced to toys for boys (truck, gun) and toys for girls (dolls, housewares), aggressive games for boys and nurturing play for girls because these are later to become their roles/tasks as men and women. And when they go to school and enter the university, there are assigned courses for boys – (analytical -Engineering) and girls (nurturing – Nurses, Teachers). The gender role stereotyping reinforces the belief that boys are different from girls and that masculinity and femininity must be standards that boys and girls must comply with otherwise they are looked upon as acting inappropriately. Men who act feminine are judged as “binabae or bakla” and women who act as men are “tomboys” which also put them in vulnerable situations because they are expected to compete with men. Even men who choose to do traditional roles of wives are belittled as “under the saya”.
And these are the images that have led the status of Filipino women to become secondary to men, discriminated against and vulnerable to gender violence. Their image as sex symbols and as women whose main role in society is to serve man’s needs and wants have been shown to increase people’s acceptance of gender role stereotyping where violence against women has also become accepted as something natural.
VAW as hidden crimes:
But the occurrence of VAW is invisible because they are actuality hidden crimes. Many victims choose not to talk about their personal experiences because of fear and the stigma that goes with these offenses and myths that blame the victim for the crime committed against her rather than these being seen as the perpetrator’s accountability. These crimes are further concealed because these are usually committed at home by intimate partners or by men close to them where women are threatened or made to feel guilty and even discouraged by family members from reporting to authorities or filing cases against their perpetrators because of the shame they might face. Thus these crimes remain invisible and unreported. Women victims of domestic violence also would rather stay in the abusive relationship believing that is best for their children, or it is rather shameful to have a broken marriage or even because she doesn’t have much of a choice since she is financially dependent on the husband.
Prevalence of VAW in the Philippines
Presently, even with the different declarations and passage of laws that should protect women from VAW, a lot is still wanting.
In 2012, the United nations reported over half of murdered women were perpetrated by partners or family members, and 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives.
In the Philippines, statistics on incidences of VAW are still high. In 2016, the Philippine National Police-Women and Children Protection Desks (PNP-WCPD) reported for that year alone, there were 9,916 cases of rape that were handled, a significant number (7,350) were committed against children. Moreover, the reported cases on violations of RA 9262 during the same year or the Anti Violence against Women and their children Act (Anti-VAWC) reached an appalling figure of 35,093. Acts of lasciviousness were experienced by 5,015 females, 60% among them were perpetrated against children.
Such occurrences are serious violations and cannot be disregarded and condoned by anyone. Thus, it is but right that appropriate measures be instituted in order to address these serious phenomena.
Sadly, inspite of the fact that Philippines being a signatory to various UN declarations advancing women’s rights; where several laws have been passed to address the various forms of VAW (Anti-rape Law, Anti Sexual harassment Act, Anti VAWC Law) and the enactment of the Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710), said to be a landmark law that would supposedly address women’s multiple issues, these efforts have not really substantially resolved the unequal status of women vis-a-vis men in the Philippines. A lot is still wanting.
In a report of World Economic Forum on Global Gender Gap, the Philippines ranks seventh in the world and number one in Asia of being gender inclusive, assumed to be addressing considerably the gender gap, However, this does not actually translate to women’s improved status and conditions. In the same report, it states that government has not fully bridged the gender gap in both economic participation and political empowerment. While the report says that there were substantial changes for the better on the status of women in managerial positions, women now outnumbering males and wages received now higher for women, they comprise a negligible number and do not reflect the overall change in women’s status since majority among women in our society belong to marginalized classes, the peasants and workers.
Addressing women’s status therefore cannot be merely done through signing of declarations and enacting regulations and rules. Of course, these are big leaps that women have achieved as they fought for these to change women’s status in society. We cannot account them however to be the decisive factors. Even if we have the best laws if there is no political will to implement them, much more those in power don’t actually have the sincerity in addressing women’s concerns, especially among the poor and most marginalized segments in Philippine society, these become just empty accomplishments and have no meaning for majority of our women. And if gender equality is achieved only among the rich, we cannot speak of it as significant to the greater number of Filipino women who are poor. Economic and political gains for a few women cannot reflect advancements on the majority of the population of women who are poor and deprived. The general conditions of the impoverished must then be substantially changed for these to be relevant for majority of our women.
Likewise, the resolution of VAW is more than just instituting regulations and rules. For even if we imprison each and every perpetrator, the problem will not be substantially addressed for as long as mind-set of the people remain unchanged on how women are looked upon. VAW will definitely persist for so long as women remain oppressed in society and the context why these phenomena occur remains unchanged.
The discrimination against women and gender based violence thus can only be resolved when the context by which inequality persists is comprehensively and decisively resolved. This means getting to the bottom of the fundamental issues that women as well as men face. First and foremost their concerns on impoverishment, landlessness, lack of livelihood and jobs must be addressed. For if these issues are not tackled, even if women and men become equal, then we have only settled one aspect of the issue but not the issue on the inequality between classes which is also crucial for majority of women in Philippine society. What relevance is there for them if they become equal but both will still live in poverty and in oppression?
Women must then arouse, organize, be vigilant and take action together with men not only to address gender inequality but much more work for fundamental changes on the socio-economic and political situation in our country that address impoverishment and marginalization of the people to deliver significant changes on the conditions of women. It will only be when these have been accomplished can we say that women have achieved full equality in society. #nordis.net
Aguja, H.J. 2013. The Filipino Woman: A Gendered History. The Mindanao Forum. Vol. 26 No.1 https://ejournals.ph/article.php?id=7122
Perez, E. N.2013. Philippine Women’s Role and Gender Equality.
Saldua, A.D.I.R. 2012. The Role of Women from Pre-Hispanic to Spanish Era. Tonks. UP Open University. https://tonkshistory.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/the-role-of-women-from-pre-hispanic-to-spanish-era/
Torralba-Titgemeyer, L.S. La Mujer Indigena – The Native Woman, A description of the Filipino Woman during Pre-Spanish Time,
World Economic Forum, Gender Gap Report 2016
World Economic Forum, Gender Gap Report 2017
PNP-WCPD 2016 Report on Incidences of VAW
VAW Report UN 2012