Statement of the WeGovern Institute for November 25 International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

On September 17, the international publication Newsweek released a report placing the Philippines as the 17th best place in the world for women. This report, entitled “Best and Worst Places for Women”, grabbed headlines in major newspapers and media outlets, as the Philippines was the only country in Asia to make it in the Top 20. The excitement has yet to die down when the Global Economic Forum released its 2011 Global Gender Gap in November, ranking the country as the eighth among 135 countries in terms of equality between women and men.

While we appreciate these high rankings as recognitions of the long years of advocacy work of the Philippine women’s movement for a more supportive environment for women, WeGovern Institute believes that there is a need to look at the present realities of women on the ground. While it may be true that the Philippines is ahead of its neighbours in Asia when it comes to passing laws promoting women’s rights and welfare and signing international instruments against all forms of discrimination on women and for gender equality, majority of women in the Philippines remain poor, marginalized, abused and exploited in more ways than one.

Of the around 25 million poor Filipinos all over the country – a conservative estimate by the National Statistics Coordination Board; a survey by the IBON Foundation revealed that 71.4% of Filipinos perceive themselves as poor – 12.8 million, or half, are women. A lot of women are jobless: of the 46.7 million Filipino women, only 13.3 million are employed, most of whom under contractual basis, receive below minimum wages and are exposed to harsh working conditions.

Moreover, a 2010 report by the Philippine National Police’s Women’s Desk shows an increasing trend in the number of violence against women (VAW) in the country: VAW cases in 2010 rose by 59.2% from the 2009 figures. The Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) said that there was a 47.74% increase in the incidence of VAW, from 18,242 in 2009 to 26,951 in 2010. The 2010 number is the highest since 1997.

Domestic violence remains to be the number one form of violence against women. According to the CWR, one woman is beaten by a partner or husband every 43 minutes, while one child is battered every one hour and 20 minutes.

Battery, verbal abuse and economic deprivation are the forms of violence prevalent in many of the communities visited by the WeGovern Institute when it started its awareness raising campaign on the rights of women in March. One such victim of domestic violence is “Maria”, a middle-aged woman in a poor community in Las Pinas City. Almost every week, her neighbours would have to intervene when her husband would beat her and her children or verbally abuse them.

Thus, the statement that the Philippines is one of the best places for women paints a misleading picture of the real situation of women.

Women in grassroots communities lack awareness of their rights, including the right to be protected from all forms of violence under Republic Act No. 9262 and reiterated in the Magna Carta of Women, according to the VAW focal person in the community in which “Maria” belongs, as well as of the processes and services they can avail of to protect these rights. To remedy this problem and thus help stop violence against women and empower women like “Maria”, WeGovern Institute launched the project “Implementing the Magna Carta of Women: Enabling and Empowering Women on the Ground to Actively Participate in Politics and Governance”.

This project, which has the support of the British Embassy in Manila, the Villar Foundation and the local governments of Valenzuela City and Las Pinas City, has already benefited around 360 women from more than 15 barangays.

Susan, a resident of Valenzuela City, was thankful for the seminars on the Magna Carta of Women conducted by WeGovern Institute under the project. According to her, awareness programs on women’s rights, especially those initiated by the local government, benefit only a select few, mainly officials and leaders, and not ordinary citizens such as herself who are concerned with the wellbeing of the people in her community. WeGovern Institute believes that the active involvement of women such as Susan is important especially in establishing a quick response and support system for women at the community level.

Through the seminar on the Magna Carta of Women, Susan learned that the prevention and elimination of violence against women is not simply a family matter but a social responsibility of each community member. She need not be an elected or appointed official in her community to be able to defend abused and exploited women. She also now understood the importance of an organized group of women in the process of fighting for their rights and interests.

In WeGovern Institute’s pilot community for the seminar on the Magna Carta of Women located in Las Pinas City and one of the barangays in the city with high incidence of VAW, the residents know that women’s issues are not only women’s concern, but also of men’s.

This barangay’s leadership is dominated by men: from the Chairperson down to the seven Councillors, all are men. This fact, however, did not deter the barangay from its goal of decreasing the incidence of domestic violence and in becoming a gender-responsive community. It even wholeheartedly embraced the “Mr. Gender and Development” project recently launched by the Commission on Population with the goal of increasing men’s awareness and participation in gender and development. Starting early next year, the leadership of this barangay is planning to conduct awareness-raising activities in resettlement areas where the number of cases of VAW are the highest.

The WeGovern Institute hails the self-help initiatives of women on the ground to address violence against women. We laud as well the growing efforts of men to address this issue. These initiatives must be complemented by active and substantive government and multi-sectoral support and not just pay lip service to the causes of women.

Legal mechanisms for the promotion and protection of women’s rights and welfare at the local level must be truly implemented with adequate funding to be able respond to the urgent needs of women on the ground. The poverty of women on the ground must be addressed as this can help them stand in crisis situation. A change in the mindset of the people that looks at women as objects and secondary citizens must be effected through continuous awareness raising and education. In the long run, structures that perpetuate subordination, discrimination, and inequality must be abolished to be able to effect genuine changes in the status of women.

On November 25, the world will observe the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Let us use this day to push forward our battle against all forms of violence against women inside and outside of the home. Let us work together to promote and protect the economic, social, cultural and political rights of women and towards their holistic development. Only when they are economically, socially and politically empowered, will women be free from ties that bind them to the cycle of abuse and exploitation. #