Ending violence against women

By Henrylito D. Tacio

“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination.  Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances.” – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres


In the controversial flick Loretta, the wife cuts the manhood of her husband when she could no longer endure the pain he had inflicted on her.  In another movie, Ika-11 na Utos: Mahalin Mo ang Iyong Asawa, Aiko Melendez played a battered wife to abusive husband Gabby Concepcion.

Those movies come to mind as the Philippines join the world in celebrating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (VAW) this coming November 25.  This has been observed since 2000 to raise awareness of the issue every year.

“Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it,” said the United Nations in its website, un.org.

Cate Johnson agrees.  “Violence against women cuts across social and economic situations and is deeply embedded in cultures around the world – so much so that millions of women consider it a way of life,” she writes in Violence Against Women: An Issue of Human Rights.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

The UN Declaration, however, clarifies that the definition of violence against women should encompass, but not be limited to, acts of physical, sexual, and psychological violence in the family and the community.  These acts include spousal battering, sexual abuse of female children, dowry-related violence, rape including marital rape, and traditional practices harmful to women, such as female genital mutilation.  They also include non-spousal violence, sexual harassment and intimidation at work and in school, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, such as rape in war.

In the Philippines, Republic Act 9262, more popularly known as the Violence Against Women and their Children Law, was passed in 2004.  It broadened the definition of abuse to include physical, emotional and economic harm.  It also made violence by an intimate partner (anyone with whom a woman has a sexual relationship) a public crime, and made it possible for anyone – not just the victim – to file a case against a perpetrator.

Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way – most often by someone she knows, including by her husband or another male family member.  So much so that violence against women is considered “a public health priority” and “a human rights concern.”

UN figures say one in two women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family in 2017 while only one out of 20 men were killed under similar circumstances. In addition, 71% of all human trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and 3 out of 4 of these women and girls are sexually exploited.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) claims that violence against women has serious consequences for their physical and mental health.  Abused women, it points out, are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, eating problems, and sexual dysfunctions.

Illustrations courtesy of UN Women

Violence may affect the reproductive health of women through unplanned pregnancies; precipitating various gynecological problems including chronic pelvic pain and painful intercourse; the increase of sexual risk-taking among adolescents; and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

Since RA 9262 was passed in the Philippines, the number of VAW cases has been steadily increasing.  One in four Filipino women age 15-49 has experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence by their husband or partner, according to the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority.

“Indeed, it is alarming that despite efforts to address the concern, VAW persists,” deplored the Philippine Commission Women (PCW), adding that VAW is “one of the country’s pervasive social problems.”

There are several reasons why VAW continues to be neglected despite its being rampant.  “Some realities that contribute to the vulnerability of Filipino women to VAW are being accused as ‘naggers’ or neglectful of their duties as wife that is why they are being beaten by their spouses, or being raped due to her ‘flirtatious’ ways,” PCW writes in its website, pcw.gov.ph.  “In some instances, filing for a sexual harassment is interpreted by her employer as being malicious on the appreciation of her good looks.”

Illustrations courtesy of UN Women

There is even a greater problem – that of “the lack of concrete information to show the extent of VAW in the county as many cases of violence against women often go unreported due to women victims’ ‘culture of silence.’”

“Many of the victims are ashamed to relate their experiences while others tend to dismiss their ordeal as a result of their lack of faith in the country’s justice system caused by frustrations over the lack of results in filing complaints,” the PCW points out.

With these developments, how can violence against women end?  “There is too much tolerance of violence in our culture,” someone pinpoints.  “Men think it is part of being a man, women think it is part of being in a relationship.” – ###

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