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The United Nations (U.N.) estimated that in 2012 over half of the murdered women were killed by their partners or family members, and that 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives.

In the Philippines, statistics on violence against women and children are also high. In 2013, the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported that 1 in 5 Filipino women had experienced physical violence since aged 15; while 6% had experienced sexual violence. 1 out of 4 married women experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence perpetrated by husbands. The Philippine National Police (PNP) reported that rape ranked 3rd among all VAW cases from 2004-2012. In 2014, DSWD reported that they handled various cases of abuse among female children. Among the cases, there were 3,168 cases of abuse, 131 among them babies under 12 months, 1,157 girls were sexually abused, 448 involving cases of incest. Many more go unreported.

Such occurrences are serious violations and cannot be disregarded and condoned by anyone. Thus, it is but right that appropriate measures be done foremost to educate the public to address these phenomena.

It is disheartening though that the growing awareness of women and the public on the issue of Violence against women (VAW) has not put as much importance to state-perpetrated VAW, which is the core reason behind commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).

IDEVAW originated in the 50’s to the 60’s with three altruistic and fearless women, the Mirabal sisters popularly known as the Las Mariposas (The Butterflies), who steadfastly fought a despotic regime that led to their cold-blooded execution on November 25, 1960 but rendered them as martyrs by the people of the Dominican Republic.

VAW in a general sense are said to be hidden crimes since many women choose not to talk about their personal experiences because of fear and the stigma that goes with these incidences. These crimes are all the more concealed because these are committed at home by intimate partners or by men known or close to them.

State perpetrated VAW bares a different angle since it is often political in nature. Victims are mainly women who are actively part of social movements and the perpetrators are people holding state power. Moreover, state machineries and state forces are used to protect the interests of the status quo. Further, the targets are labelled enemies of the state to justify the violence perpetrated against them. These are graver crimes because the perpetrators themselves are public “servants” and institutions that are designated to provide support and protection to women. The experience of the Mirabal sisters under the Trujillo regime was a clear case in point.

But we need not go far. Our realities in the Philippines have parallelisms that can be drawn from the experiences in the Dominican Republic. We have heard about the realities of women who went against the Marcos dictatorship during the imposition of Martial Law in the 70’s of being incarcerated, tortured, raped, disappeared and even summarily executed.

Today, authoritarianism looms in the country as President Duterte threatens to set up a revolutionary government which many believe to be a prelude to another Martial Rule. But even without the formal declaration of Martial Law, several cases of extra-judicial killings and of political persecutions are becoming the order of the day.

Presently, in the Cordillera region, several women human rights defenders are under attack because of their political beliefs and their active involvement in the movement for social change. Like the Las Mariposas, they suffer political persecution for standing for what is just. They bear threats for being promoters of women rights and indigenous people’s rights especially in marginalized communities. They endure false charges since they support communities in safeguarding their lands and resources against the exploitation by the state and by private corporations. They undergo harassments and intimidations because they are defenders of human rights working against the militarization of villages and safeguarding the civil and political rights of the people.

Will we wait until these women human rights defenders end up like the Mariposas who suffered gravely then brutally slain under a tyrannical regime? Are we going to allow the perpetration of VAW in all their forms to reign in our midst?

In celebrating international day to end violence against women, let the spirit of the butterflies live amongst us. Let them be our symbol for seeking justice for VAW victims. Let the Las Mariposas be our inspiration in advancing the cause of ending VAW in all its forms. We again call for women’s unity and vigilance and to uphold the real essence of commemorating IDEVAW.