MANILA — Gender-based violence (GBV) is affecting 2.5 million women in the Philippines, an official of USAID said Friday, adding that lockdowns against the COVID-19 pandemic in the country have increased the risks for women to suffer abuse.
“Though the quarantine is needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country and the world, it carries the risks of increased GBV,” Michelle Lang-Alli, USAID Philippine Office of Health Director, said during a webinar.
FamiLigtas, a joint effort campaign of Lunas Collective and USAID, was launched seeking to raise awareness and fight all forms of GBV such as rape, rape jokes, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, revenge porn, and others against men, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.
The campaign seeks to educate and build awareness for Filipinos on gender-based violence happening in homes. It also intends to help survivors recover from their experiences.
“While we are fighting this pandemic, we can also protect our home from GBV. With your help, let us help keep homes safe from GBV and let us all help build a safer community,” Lang-Alli said.
Gender-based violence in the Philippines is hugely cultural which needs to be addressed, said Dana Aduna, chief volunteer of women advocacy group Lunas Collective.
In recent data by the Philippine National Police’s Women Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC), there were 804 incidents of gender-based violence and violence against women and children from March 15 to April 30 reported from all over the country. March 15 was the start of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and other areas.
The number of cases reported during the lockdown period was lower than the number of cases reported in the previous months but this just means that victims are having a harder time reporting abuse because of lockdown restrictions, Aduna said.
In January 2020, there were 1,383 reported cases nationwide. In February, it went down to 1,224. For March, the figure dipped further to 1,044.
“Quarantine makes it difficult for people to report abuses. Victims are simply unable to report abuse properly,” Aduna said.
“We’ve had women come to us and say this is the first incidence of violence in their home and it has to do with pressures in coping with the pandemic,” she added.
The majority of the victim-survivors of gender based violence are women and girls who could most likely be experiencing interlocking forms of violence.
Gender-based violence in the Philippines often hide under the umbrella of culture wherein women are expected to submit to their husband's and societies’ norms, Aduna said.
“Sometimes we tend to be protective, this is what Filipino does but if we are willing to address those incidents and those issues, we can address them slowly,” Aduna added.
Aduna said gender-based violence can be worsened by one’s situation in life. Worldwide, people who are poor have higher chances of experiencing gender-based violence.
Anti-GBV advocate and ABS-CBN journalist Karen Davila said it is important to recognize everyday circumstances wherein gender-based violence happen, from members of the LGBTQ+ community receiving beating or discrimination from their family because of their actions; having abusive live-in partners and husbands; to children being beaten by their parents as a form of discipline.
Former beauty queen Miriam Quiambao shared how she received verbal and financial abuse from her former husband. According to her, with the knowledge of gender-based violence now, she could have handled those abusive events differently.
“Whenever he called me stupid or whenever he raised his voice at me, I should have told him to stop saying those profane words,” Quiambao said.
“Human rights is for everyone. We all deserve respect, whatever gender you are, you deserve to be respected for who you are, for your choices and you deserve to be spoken to with much respect,” she added.
Deputy Executive Director Lolito Tacardon of the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) said “gender-based violence is the worst impact of this pandemic” but with proper intervention, it can be addressed.
“We encourage the people to report gender-based cases,” he said. “The increasing cases of pregnancies among minor and children are results of gender-based violence."
Tacardon added that the weak and the vulnerable should realize that they have the power to fight against abuses and gender-based violence.
Aduna said gender-based violence should be discussed with children starting with the concept of having healthy boundaries.
“We should discuss GBV with our children, we should begin with consent and healthy boundaries and important boundaries. What is good touch and bad touch,” she said.
Victims were encouraged to report gender-based violence incidents to the PNP's Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Division hotline, 8532-6690, which is open around the clock.
"GBV is not and will never be acceptable,” Garcia said.
For those who want to help or volunteer to fight gender-based violence in the Philippines, visit Facebook.com/LunasCollective.