Sunday, March 17, 2013

More yet to rise


published 22 Feb 2013, MST, page A5 
Valentine’s Day is not always about cakes and flowers and dinner dates. This year, it was also a time to rise against violence against women.
A worldwide movement called One Billion Rising was organized for the purpose of exhorting women, on February 14, to “walk out, dance, rise up and demand” an end to violence and show solidarity in this cause across borders.
According to the Web site onebillionrising.org, the movement is “ a global strike, a call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends, a refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given.
The Web site cites a UNIFEM report claiming that one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. This is “an atrocity.”
Various organizations in different parts of the world held their own activities depending on how women’s issues—violence, lack of access to education, poverty, deprivation of choice—in their respective countries are appreciated.
The Guardian was among those which covered the event from the United Kingdom to Nepal, Congo, Ethiopia and Afghanistan. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/blog/2013/feb/14/one-billion-rising-live-coverage.
Indeed while significant gains have been achieved in terms of defining women’s place in society, success has been varied. We have heard horror stories of children being forced into marriage, students being shot for merely attempting to go to school, rape victims being blamed for their ordeal, and female fetuses are being aborted.
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But it is one thing to get caught up in this kind of movement—talking about it, writing about it, joining similar events. It is another thing altogether to experience violence within the family and still feel helpless, not being able to do something about it despite one’s theoretical knowledge of the steps that must be undertaken.
A Facebook friend, Angel, was reminded of this early this week when her own sister was beaten by her boyfriend.
Angel is no stranger to these things. She is a fierce advocate of various women’s, environment and human rights issues, is politically aware, and is a prolific blogger. In fact, she was the one who gave brochures on Republic Act 9262, or the Ant-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act, to the her barangay officials in Sangandaan, Quezon City.
The law provides that a protection order against the abusive partner may be obtained from the barangay. This unit of government is the people’s first resort— something goes wrong, and they run to the barangay. It’s near, it’s community based, but unfortunately not always helpful.
Barangay officials, apparently oblivious to the victim’s state of mind, gave Angel’s sister the runaround, asked for various documents and said that the persons in charge would not be able to act on the request because they were in a seminar somewhere.
It was Angel’s desperate shoutout on Facebook that eventually yielded results. The Philippine Commission on Women, which before did not return Angel’s text message and calls, called up the city mayor who in turn called the attention of the concerned barangay chairman regarding the failed issuance of the protection order.
This leads one to wonder: If Angel did not know the right people who helped her navigate her way through the bureaucracy, would her sister have been given relief? Consider that they were better informed than most other families, but even that did not prevent them from being lost and helpless when they found themselves in said situation.
And if things like this can happen to those who know what they should expect from the system, what about the others who have no knowledge at all?
It could be that the barangay officials simply did not know exactly how the law should work. It could also be that they have seen countless similar stories that Angel’s sister’s plight did not sound urgent and compelling anymore. Or that they just did not appreciate what they were there for.
For whatever reason, it is far-fetched to say that Filipino women, because of the mere existence of the Anti-VAWC law, are already guaranteed protection from abuse. Far from it. There remain huge gaps in implementation, specifically in educating the people who must enforce it at the grassroots level. They should at the very least refrain from making the process so taxing that the victims eventually decide they would be better off suffering in silence.
Finally, women, especially those who do not have access to information, must know they must demand to be treated well by their husbands, boyfriends or partners. Love, loyalty, economic dependency, the presence of children, or reputation aside, they have plenty of options instead of allowing themselves to be beaten, physically or otherwise.
adellechua@gmail.com

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