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Understanding discrimination and violence vs women

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.

Addressing VAW

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.

Decisive resolution

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

Reference:
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

Retracing the True Beginnings of IDEVAW

November 25 marks a very important date for women the world over. Waves of critical events transpired on this particular date bringing to the fore violence against women as a legitimate societal concern in turn engendering awareness towards this issue.

On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated this date as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW). Since then, UN member states begun celebrating this date defining strategies “to end violence against women, empower women, and achieve gender equality”.

However, it is not really to UN’s credit nor to governments celebrating this day around the world why the issue of VAW started to be given fundamental importance. Way before UN countries formally recognized this historic event, commemorations had long been taking place organized by women activists who had grasped the real meaning behind this date.

IDEVAW started as a venue for paying tribute to three courageous women who were clubbed, strangled and beaten to death by security forces of then Dominican Republic’s president Gen. Rafael Trujillo on November 25, 1960 after they came from prison to visit their husbands who were themselves
imprisoned by the dictator.

Patria Mercedes, Maria Argentina Minerva and Antonia Maria Teresa, more popularly known as the Mirabal sisters were born to a family of middle class farmers in a rural community in the Dominican Republic. At a period when it wasn’t ordinary for women to finish schooling, they were able to earn themselves their college degrees. For this, they became the honor of their hometown. Their education however was not just confined inside the classroom. They were able to raise their awareness on the social realities of their country as well.

Minerva, the youngest among the three, took up law but she was denied her license to practice for she outrightly rejected the romantic advances of Trujillo. Trujillo reportedly threatened her stating: “What if I send my subjects to conquer you?” To this, the brave Minerva responded, “And what if I conquer your subjects?”

Also, while others would give utmost priority to their families, the sisters took on a wider calling. Patria, the eldest among the three sisters articulated their sentiment about this matter- “We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime. We have to fight against it, and I am willing to give up everything, even my life if necessary.”

The three sisters established the group known as the “Movement of the Fourteenth of June,” named after the date of the massacre earlier witnessed by one of the siblings. It was a clandestine popular resistance movement which fought the dictatorial rule of Trujillo. They went by the name “Las Mariposas” or The Butterflies, their pseudonym in the underground which later became the symbol of resistance in their country.

On several occasions, Trujillo gave orders for the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of the Las Mariposas. But they did not waiver, ready to sacrifice even their lives for the cause. Teresa contended, “Perhaps what we have most near is death, but that idea does not frighten me. We shall continue to fight for that which is just.”

And it was their uncompromising position against the dictatorship that led to their cruel demise. But their violent death did not break the resistance. Instead, it ignited further spurring many more to join the movement. Consequently, it led to the end of the Trujillo dictatorship 6 months after the hideous death of these noble women.

In this important occasion of honoring the “Las Mariposas”, it is essential to go back to the real essence of celebrating International Day to End Violence Against Women. IDEVAW when it was first celebrated as an event which commemorated these valiant women who led a resistance movement against a corrupt and tyrannical government. It was an occasion which underscored state perpetrated violence against women as a grave crime. The celebration of their lives yielded the campaign to resist violence committed against women, in the context of the advancement of women’s rights and for social transformation.

For the past decades, UN and many among UN member-states, including the Philippines started to recognize VAW as a matter of concern leading to formulations of policies towards tackling this issue. Domestic and sexual violence, and other forms of VAW perpetrated against women at home, in schools, in the workplace and in the streets begun to be legally recognized as crimes against women. It must however be stressed that these achievements were not just handed over to women on a silver platter. VAW became acknowledged as a legitimate concern because of women’s painstaking struggles. These are gains of the women’s movement in the campaign to end VAW.#

Against All Odds: Women Journalists in the Frontline

(A Keynote address delivered by Kathleen T. Okubo, member of CWEARC’s Board of Trustees, on the 37th biennial conference of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), November 9-11, 2017, in Quezon City. The theme of the 3-day conference: Broadcasting and Social Justice: Women in the Media on Conflict and Crises.)

Ladies, women of the world, colleagues in media work, and gentlemen; Naimbag a bigat yo amin! (Good morning! In my region of the Philippines.)

Apparently, we are here to confer about the world as women in the profession of broadcasting particularly, and as journalists sharing stories of news events, comments, opinion and analysis from our corners of the world to the world audience.

As women journalists in the task of informing, educating, entertaining, telling the truth to the public, is especially more highly expected of us, and if we make a mistake or fumble, the alleged delicate frailties of being women are put to blame. And, we do “hold-up-half-of-the-sky,” dont’t we? Also, as all people go through the daily pressures imposed by the present conditions of “globalization.” Also, all people – women, man and child, face the global effects and threats of “climate change”… yet we still are “just women” who also have to give birth, care and nurture the children and the home.

For being “just women”, we are prone or relegated to being called “the usual victims” of sex crimes, victims of bullying, sexual harassment, of discrimination from opportunities to choose or advance careers like “everyone” else, or be part of decision making at every aspect of being in or of belonging to a community, even to receive equal pay for equal work. Though they never tell us, the generally discriminating macho world still tries to make us feel like lesser citizens. Yet, being a woman empowered in the profession as journalism, we are somehow expected to persevere to build a better and sustainable life for us and for our communities.

It must be for that better world seen in the horizon that we must stand up against all odds, not only for us as individuals but for the future of this generation and the next, and the next… So it is in us to know and recognize what the driving factors are behind capitalism, imperialism, neoliberalism or globalization. It is said to be what history has been trying to impress on us that brings the inequalities where the rich became richer. Where despots and tyrants became real and numerous against the bigger numbers of the world population. And that women and children are first to suffer the negative effects of globalization and climate change.

World leaders and economy experts argue for or against neoliberalism or globalization while outside their rich enclaves the majority of the population, to which most of us are, continue to suffer the fast decline of world economy.

Breakthrough of the Philippine Star (by Elfren S. Cruz, Nov. 5, 2017) describes globalization “As the rich became richer, their wealth was supposed to start “trickling down” to the poor so that ultimately everyone would benefit from the rich accumulating more wealth. This theory has never worked. Income inequality has reached a level unprecedented in human history.”

Here in the Philippines, the think-tank Ibon tells us that Marcos initiated “Globalization” which led to economic decline.

“In 1980, the Marcos regime actually made the Philippines the first country in Asia and the second country in the world, after Turkey, to be at the receiving end of a World Bank structural adjustment loans (SAL). The conditionalities of the US$200 million loan included among others tariff cuts, removal of import licenses and quantitative restrictions, lowering protections, and exportpromotion – all in line with the market-oriented restructuring of the economy. This first SAL and another US$302 million one in 1984 were the historic spearheads of subsequent decades of trade and investment liberalization in the country.” (— from Anyare? Economic Decline Since Marcos)

By the way, in a few days the ASEAN meet will start with US president Donald Trump in attendance on his first official visit to this country. This kind of meetings are said to be where the first world countries dictate on third world countries, not on equal footing nor for equal advantage or for mutual benefit. We wonder, for how much more will government bid out of our country’s sovereignty… these information usually do not hit the airwaves or print. And, the nationalist militant movement is expected to launch a protest rally against the imperialist led confab. “No to globalization.”

Since Marcos initiated the “trade and investment liberalization in the country” there was an aggressive move for the country’s remaining natural resources which were by then in areas occupied (defended homes) by the indigenous peoples here. It was near this period that government worked with World Bank backing to increase extractive industries in the region where I come from and was in media work… in the Cordillera, the home of the indigenous peoples called Igorots (or people of the mountains).

While I did not choose to be a broadcaster but took advantage of an opportunity to get inked in my youth in a small press where my father worked as a printer and published the first weekly community newspaper launched some five years after WWII in the Cordillera region northern Luzon. Aside from writing for my high school paper, I worked two summers with this weekly tabloid where I earned an on- the-job-training in newswriting and newspapering before I entered the university.

Marcos was already president then. The Vietnam war under the Americans was at its height. The international protest movement against the Vietnam war was raging, the Philippines was no exemption.

The campaign for Philippine national democracy was revitalized. This movement grew larger and was clearly anti-imperialist. In reaction to their growing strength, Marcos suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus followed by the declaration of Martial law (1971-1986).

I was arrested as an activist and was a political detainee several times under martial law, and even after it was lifted (1986), the last time I was detained for being ‘involved’ was in 1992 under President Ramos.

It was also in the mid-70s that the Cordillera was militarized to further open large scale mining, to take over the forest and rivers to make way for large development projects like: 4 mega dams along the Chico River, and the forests of Abra and Mountain Province for logs and resin to export and pulp for paper, etc.

The Tinggians, Bontocs, Ibalois and Kalingas organized and mobilized themselves to resist and defend their ancestral domain from these aggressive projects that did not include them at all. The women in these communities stood up and fought beside their men in ways only organized women can do. Bare breasts they faced and stood against the armed Philippine Constabulary to stop a mining company. In protest, the women had dismantled a whole construction camp and carried the machinery and debris piece by piece several kilometers away to the soldiers’ town headquarters.

These and many more stories of people’s resistance and their resilience sparked great inspiration among local women writers and journalists who covered these communities and the growing movement of indigenous peoples defending their right to their ancestral domains, their culture and their villages, against government troops and a tyrannical government.

As a journalist, I have been seriously threatened with libel twice, one because of the editorial on violation of labor rights in a large mining operation and the other for printing a story of a rape and sexual harassment case involving an influential politician. I was pregnant with my youngest, still writing and active with the Cordillera News and Features, when I was threatened by a Malacanang-coddled militia group for stories critical of their activities and making true death threats against human rights defenders.

In the late 70s a few newspapers guardedly published stories about the growing protest among the Igorots. If they did, the stories were terribly edited, misinforming, and insensitive of the Igorot’s culture and history. This prompted some writers in the Cordillera to support an alternative news dispatch from Baguio sent out to all friendly media outfits, broadcast and print, to allow the Igorots “to sing their own songs” and build solidarity ties against oppression and injustice.

That news dispatch slept and was several times revived. It has now grown to be a weekly community paper circulating in the northern Luzon regions and has never missed an issue for the past 15 years. It promised and strives to be the newspaper of the people (umili). It is very dependent on the communities it covers and writes about to be able to continue. At several times it was dominated by women writers. The newspaper and its writers continue to be harassed by people in government and the military. But, in its lifetime as the “Dyario ti Umili” it has learned to stand by its readers and stand by organized communities, allies and partners in the area of coverage and widen its circulation or reach among the unorganized sectors, by providing the information and issues to educate and heighten awareness.

Its only strength and defense is the truth from the eyes of the people, and the larger sector of empowered communities. To us as women in media, we see women’s liberation and emancipation in the drive to change the exploitative and oppressive situation by keeping our minds open and never stop learning or studying, this further arms ourselves with needed tools to do our tasks of gathering and sharing information to our audience, educating and empowering them with tools of analysis to overcome false information, half truths, lies and black propaganda.

Let us continue to unite on these basic values for the good of the greater majority, organize and unite to further serve the communities. Ladies and partners in the struggle, let us be one in the goal to uplift life’s standards for all! Salamat (Thank you).